Germany fully opens doors to eastern European workers

10:04, May 02, 2011      

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After seven years of waiting and watching, Germany finally caught up with its western European partners as the country officially lift labor market restrictions Sunday on eight eastern nations that joined the EU in 2004.

From May 1, workers from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary and Slovenia will for the first time be allowed to apply for every job available in Germany, Europe's largest economy.

Germany's bordering country Austria will do the same on May 1, also known as International Workers'Day. Berlin and Vienna are two last EU member states that gave up restrictions on labor movement within EU areas.

While Britain, Ireland and Sweden opened their labor markets immediately after the EU enlargement in 2004, Italy, the Netherlands, and France also lifted all labor bans in 2006, 2007 and 2008 separately. However, Germans insisted a seven-year transition period to prevent a sudden influx of foreign jobseekers, which would further weaken their then-fragile economy and job market.

Seven years later, situations changed dramatically: German economy robustly rebounded from financial crisis with a stunning annual growth of 3.6 percent in 2010. Its unemployment rate has dropped to a 20-year low as companies intend to hire more workers to meet increasing orders from home and abroad.

Instead of rejecting foreign workers, Germany now is eager to fill the enlarging labor gaps, especially in fields of high-end industries, thanks to the ongoing economic expansion and the headaching population ageing.

"We're not running out of jobs, (but) we're running out of workers," German Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen said earlier. "Now we're expecting good, well-qualified people who want to work."

German Economy Minister Rainer Bruderle recently told reporters that his country needs at least 66,000 IT specialists to strengthen its world's leading industries.

However, Germany is not the only country that is short of skilled workers. Even if German wages could double, sometimes even triple, the average in eastern countries, Germany still faces a bitter battle for attracting enough talents, partly because of its caution in the past seven years.

According to a report of Cologne Institute for Economic Research, millions of eastern European skilled workers, such engineers, designers and software writers, have already found career opportunities and settled themselves down in the first opening-up EU countries, like Britain and Ireland.

Since those "new immigrants" have built their social network and even families in some other western developed countries, it would be quite difficult to persuade them to start a new life in another place, especially a country with a unfamiliar language.

"Most graduates in the new EU member states speak English instead of German, and it is thus more difficult to integrate into the labour market here," said Professor Herbert Brckler of the German Institute for Labor Market and Vocational Research (IAB).

Figures showed that nearly 2 million eastern workers have moved into Britain since London opened its labor borders in 2004.

"This hesitant attitude, based on fears of a possible negative effect on the German labor market, now turns out to have been a huge mistake," Klaus Zimmermann, the head of the Bonn-based Institute for the Study of Labor, told German news magazine Der Spiegel.

Although estimates on the scale of labor movement differ from organizations, most experts held that there would be no sudden " tidal wave" of immigrants after Germany's opening up labor markets.

The Cologne Institute for Economic Research forecast that 800, 000 workers from the eastern member states will come to Germany in the next two years, and the net immigration would remain at an annual average of 120,000 after an initial surge.

The Nuremberg-based IAB expected no more than 140,000 outsiders would seek jobs in Germany each year, while the European Commission saw the figure less than 100,000.

Not all Germans are welcome these workers coming from Eastern Europe, particularly in the low-wage sector, fearing that the openness would lead to job losses and wage dumping.

A survey conducted by the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR) showed that the majority of Germans opposed the arrival of low-skilled eastern workers, although 60 percent of them welcomed high-skilled foreigners.

Another poll b Germany's GfK marketing institute found that 73 percent of Germans worried the new comers would seize job positions from local people. The figure jumped to 79 per cent in Germany's eastern states, where the industry is less developed than the west.

However, Germany is not alone in job fears. Many eastern countries also express worries that the free labor market would make their skilled and educated talents head to wealthy nations and hurt the competitiveness of their motherlands.

As for Germany, most of potential eastern jobseekers would come from the neighboring Poland, whose people have already been allowed to take up some seasonal jobs without work permits in Germany since Jan. 1, 2011.

According to Poland's employer organization Pracodawcy RP, currently there are around 300,000 to 400,000 Polish workers coming to Germany every year for seasonal jobs or self-employed business.

With Germany lifting restrictions on the labor force, Poland would lose "more well-educated, young people and that will considerably slow down their economic development," the organization said in a report.

A poll showed that some 40 percent of major Polish employers expected "negative consequences" of a totally free European labor market.

As for employers in Bulgaria and Romania, the EU's newest members which joined in 2007, they have another three years to debate on the pros and cons of a free EU market -- Germany and Austria set a seven-year transition period and will keep labor restrictions on the two nations until Jan. 1, 2014.

Source: Xinhua
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