The situation with the pandemic once again showed how much the Polish market is dependent on foreign workers.

Seasonal work in Poland this year is difficult to start without migrant workers from Eastern Europe. Polish farmers fear that the harvest may go uncollected.

Sites with vacancies and profile groups in social networks are full of announcements about the work of collecting strawberries, but there are not so many who want. Ukrainians who worked in hotels or restaurants, which were closed for quarantine, are not in a hurry to enter the fields. Farm owners claim that unemployed Poles are unlikely to replace them, as they are not used to hard work.

Now Poland’s agriculture needs several thousand workers, in June – several tens of thousands. The construction industry, which accounts for 8% of Poland’s GDP, claims an acute shortage of workers. One in five Ukrainian builders left the country.

It is difficult to make forecasts in an ever-changing crisis situation, but we can assume that if the borders remain closed until the beginning of the summer, the shortage of labor can be felt by the auto industry, furniture industry and metal and woodworking – that is, those industries that have already begun to “defrost” their activity.

Poland is unlikely to be able to cover labour needs unless there is a big recession and drought, even amid rising unemployment in the country.

How will the Polish labour market change? And how can the situation with the return of Ukrainians affect the economy of Poland and Ukraine?

Two waves of return

After the closure of the borders from Poland in two waves left about 150,000 Ukrainians. They are mainly migrants who have run out of legal stay in the country.

The third expected wave of mass departure for orthodox Easter and May holidays in Ukraine did not happen. Ukrainians realized that after returning to Poland it will be difficult for them to keep their jobs. They were partially reassured by laws passed by the Polish government on the automatic extension of expired documents, that is, it is possible to work further.

Ukrainians who remained in Poland began to get the voices of those who returned from their homeland: it is difficult to find a job in Ukraine now, to eat earned – pleasure with dubious prospects. The economic situation in Ukraine is not encouraging. In the month of quarantine alone, the number of unemployed in Ukraine increased by 1-1.3 million. While in Poland such a number of unemployed are expected by the end of the year.

A third of Ukrainians who have left Poland already want to go back.

This is evidenced by the data collected by our analytical department on the results of appeals to the “hotline” launched by us social program of assistance to Ukrainians “We are together.” Among the callers there are those who have never been to Poland before the pandemic. The number of Ukrainians wishing to come to work will grow.

A new reality in the Polish market

However, migrant workers may face a new crisis in Poland. Now it is not the employee, but the employer will again dictate the terms.

Before the pandemic, Ukrainians, having already mastered the Polish market, chose the best of the many vacancies offered, and companies attracted employees with social packages and bonuses – free housing and paperwork, and so on.

Now there are still vacancies in Poland, but the demand for good work will grow significantly.

Several people, both Polish citizens and foreigners, can apply for one place. We already see this trend for the enterprises with which we cooperate.

Employers will choose the best of the best. Ukrainians have long established themselves in Poland as good workers. To strengthen their competitiveness now will help good professional skills, mastery of Polish at least at the basic level and flexibility in accepting job offers.

Competition between countries

If the competition in the Polish market is not particularly noticeable, in the European market it has already unfolded between the countries for seasonal workers from Eastern Europe.

The European Commission called on seasonal workers to be equated with critical professions such as doctors or pilots during the epidemic and to make border crossing procedures easier for them.

Germany planes ferrying seasonal workers from Eastern Europe. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry says that they were approached by several foreign ministers, ready to send planes for Ukrainians for seasonal work.

Poland is still attractive and comfortable for migrant workers from Ukraine. It is the only EU country where Ukrainian citizens can work on biometric passports, having received a temporary work permit.

But in the conditions of the lockdown, the access of new workers to the Polish labor market is complicated.

According to a sociological survey conducted in February 2020, 84% of Ukrainians working in Poland were interested in employment in Germany, the Czech Republic and Scandinavia, and 40% were ready to go to Germany as soon as it opened its markets to foreigners.

How the mood of migrant workers will change during the crisis will depend on how quickly EU countries react legislatively, making it easier for foreigners to access the labour market even under quarantine and when the borders will open.

In the situation of the pandemic, Poland is still pursuing a proactive policy. The shortage of personnel due to the departure of Ukrainians forced the Polish authorities to heed the wishes of employers and to go for legislative easing, extending the period of legal stay in Poland for foreigners.

Thanks to such actions it was possible to avoid the mass departure of Ukrainians from Poland.

But insufficient and inaccurate information about the closure of borders by the Ukrainian authorities provoked panic. Ukrainians began to cross the border, exposing themselves to the risk of infection. Having been out of work in Ukraine for some time, their discontent will grow. Whether the Ukrainian government will be able to create very quickly promised jobs for returnees is a huge question.

But the volume of remittances to Ukraine from Poland from the zarobites – one of the largest items of currency in the economy – can be reduced significantly. The money of migrant workers stabilized the course of the hryvnia and worked in the domestic market.

Analysis of the situation in both countries gives us an opportunity to draw a conclusion: Ukrainians are waiting for signals from the Polish and Ukrainian authorities, whether the work will be and where to look for it, in the coming months. And it is unlikely that the choice will be in favor of Ukraine. But Poland should also worry if the neighboring EU countries are more quickly oriented in the changing crisis situation and attract Ukrainian migrant workers better conditions as soon as the borders are opened.