Potential jobs-related friction: immigrants taking on jobs Lithuanians unwilling to do

Worker at work. By Milad B Fakurian. From Unsplash

The pandemic has closed borders and increased unemployment in Lithuania to levels not seen for several years. However, even give such a situation, a quarter more people immigrated to Lithuania compared to last year. The most frequent arrivals are Ukrainians, Belarussians and Russians. Evermore emigrated Lithuanians are also returning to their homeland – the number of returnees grew by 12% this year, lrytas.lt reported.

The potential frictions on the labour market were discussed with the Trade Union Confederation’s head Inga Ruginienė and Lithuanian Business Confederation vice president Marius Dubnikovas.

Marius, let’s start with you. Immigrants – good or bad for Lithuania?

If there are people coming, that means there’s demand. It has been proven a number of times scientifically that immigration is a positive factor. Firstly – it is a sign of good welfare in the country because others see it as a place of higher added value. Secondly, immigrants contribute to economic growth. Sensible migration only contributes to the economy.

What do you mean with “sensible” migration?

It means that we should consider the countries of origin for people coming to us. Mentality is very important. For example, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia are countries that are close to us in their culture and traditions. On the other hand, we must also monitor what specialities those arriving hold, what demand there is for them. That’s “sensible” migration.

Inga, what’s your take?

I would like to expand on the concept of “sensible” migration. Even in Lithuania’s Trilateral Council, there were discussions on high qualification or narrow sphere staff that Lithuania is unable to train in time or isn’t training at all, but their demand is extremely high.

Everyone agreed that a certain part of the labour market should be occupied by individuals from foreign countries because our own citizens cannot satisfy this demand. However, these large immigrant numbers in Lithuania are actually not specialists, but simply cheap labour.

The most popular sectors where immigrants from third countries are employed are transport, construction and other services. Such employees promote social dumping and so, I disagree with Marius’ claim that immigrants encourage the economy to grow.

The government has said that only high qualification employees that Lithuania is lacking in will arrive. However, it appears that the plan is not being upheld. Inga mentioned an interesting concept – “social dumping.” Marius, what do you think about it?

Our country is growing wealthier and so, our citizens want better jobs. Jobs are simply overtaken from the small number of people who aren’t keeping up with society in its progress forwards, it’s natural. A migrant arriving in Lithuania leaves behind creations they make and this grows our economy.

Why is it that Lithuania still has numerous job vacancies, but employers can’t find anyone to fill them out?

It’s a natural transformation. People are changing jobs or emigrating. A space of job vacancies opens, one that always exists. It’s a completely normal process.

Now, the number of job vacancies is on the rise, but this is once again the consequence of a growing economy. With employment rates rising, company numbers increasing, it’s pre-programmed that the number of job vacancies will also rise. When the epidemic ends, we will likely see a massive burst of economic optimism and the need for labour will inevitably rise.

Inga, did Marius manage to convince you that the economy is growing thanks to migration? After all, Lithuanians are living better and so, they no longer want to work “black” jobs. [In Lithuania, “Black jobs” typically refers to difficult/unpleasant and low paying work]

We’re not talking “black” or “white” jobs, but wages. It’s natural that companies, which pay decent wages, have Lithuanians working in them and there is no need for immigrants there.

Often, it so happens in our country that employers do not raise wages for years, but finally, a threshold is reached when you must raise wages to retain your staff. This is how immigration waves arise because automatically a means emerges for the employer to not offer raises.

DO you mean to say that businesses are unpatriotic and not incentivising Lithuanians to work?

Without a doubt, the pandemic has showcased that most businesses are patriotic, but let’s admit that in terms of immigration, the most popular sectors are transport, construction and services.

These businesses are not patriotic because very often, they work off the books. This is probably where the problem lies; it reveals why there is a lack of workers and why people no longer wish to work in such businesses.

Employees have grown weary of envelope payments [refers to cash wage payments that are not included in accounting so as to avoid taxation] or living without social guarantees. Lithuanians living in their homeland think of their pension as well, while Ukrainians come for half a year and will gladly return to their country and think about social guarantees there.

Marius, what do you think?

I think that businesses are patriotic and do seek to retain Lithuanians in their home country. The ideal situation would be if we had immigrant workgroups, but the Lithuanians who worked the lower tier jobs would become those groups’ leaders. This would help us keep our fellow citizens, of whom there aren’t many in general.

You say that there’s not many of us, but the Scandinavians still manage to snap up, for example, psychologists who finish their studies because they are paid vastly more for their work there. Inga, do you think Lithuania can offer young individuals appealing jobs?

Lithuania is waning. The phenomenon that our society is ageing shows that youths are seeking ways to leave Lithuania because the view dominates that in order to live a dignified life in Lithuania, you must first go abroad. That’s the process we are witnessing.

What is most interesting is that upon emigrating, Lithuanians do not necessarily wait until they can get large wages at home. They would be content with at least an average wage, but Lithuanian employers intentionally refuse to do so and thus, cheap labour immigrates.

Do you also think Lithuania is waning, Marius?

The conversation has turned in a negative direction. I believe that Lithuania isn’t waning – Lithuania is growing. Just look at the numbers – Lithuanians are returning, there are also foreigners arriving. The economy is developing, working conditions are improving. People are no longer leaving – they are returning.

We’ve reached a watershed moment – jobs that can satisfy Lithuanians have emerged. Higher added value companies that have begun establishing themselves in Lithuania have become a key stimulus for Lithuanians to return to their homeland.

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