Will we hire more foreign workers amid mounting labour shortage in Lithuania?

Workers Vida Press

Official statistics show that the number of unemployed people surged in 2019 for the first time in several years. It is also noticeable that more and more workers come to Lithuania from third countries. The number of migrant workers may rise even further as the new List of Professions in Short Supply has lengthened fourfold, Martynas Žilionis wrote in tv3.lt

According to the data provided by the Employment Service, there were 144.1 thousand unemployed people in Lithuania last December. That amounts to 8.4 percent of the working-age population. Compared with the last month of 2018, the unemployment rate has increased by 0.2 percent.

Preliminary calculations by the Department of Statistics show that 45.5 thousand people immigrated to Lithuania in the first eleven months of last year. More than half of them were Lithuanian citizens, while the rest were foreigners.

Foreigners, who want to start working in Lithuania, have to get the permission of the Employment Service before applying for a visa or a work permit. However, it is not required for those whose occupation is included in the List of professions in short supply.

This list is updated every six months. There were 16 professions in the list for the second half of 2019. For the first half of 2020, the number has increased four times and now there are more than 60 professions listed.

Based on the list, Lithuania experiences a shortage not only of truck drivers (there has been a lack of them for several years already) or various plasterers, welders, bricklayers and decorators.

There is also a scarcity of workers whose occupations likely do not require special education, such as fish processors, cutters, ready-to-cook food preparers, butchers, slaughterers, meat processors and meat cutters. In addition to that, a variety of tailors are also much-needed.

The question is, why there is a need for hiring more foreigners when the unemployment rate in Lithuania rises? Representatives of employers and employees have different versions.

Profit-sharing is insufficient

The Chairwoman of the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation Inga Ruginienė sees various reasons for the growing list of professions in short supply.

“I have noticed that in-demand professions have not really changed over the years, there is always a need of the same ones. For me, during the negotiations with employers, it is nothing new to hear that we need to bring more foreign workers, that the situation is complicated and so on.

Surely, there is a lack of workers with high professional qualification in some fields. On the other hand, the situation is deeply connected with a cheap workforce,” the Chairwoman says.

According to her, much was revealed by the recent story of striking Turkish workers. Construction workers, who are renovating S. Darius and S. Girėnas stadium in Kaunas, started their protests after not being paid.

“If Turks had resigned themselves to not getting paid, we would have never found out that the firm which has won the public auction is a part of the shadow economy and pays different salaries from the ones which were promised.

The promised monthly salary for Turkish workers was 500 euros. Our construction workers possibly would not even work for such a salary. We cannot reject this cause either. The employer tries to find out how to pay less. This shows that the profit-sharing economy still does not exist in Lithuania,” commented I. Ruginienė.

On the other hand, she added that the Lithuanian education system has holes.

“We have to speak about our education system too. It is not up to date and does not adapt to the current situation in Lithuania. We unreasonably underestimate the value of vocational schools. Their reputation is completely ruined. After graduating from school, our children go to universities because vocational schools are not respected. Even though many times you can earn more after graduating from a vocational school than a university.”

From chairwoman’s perspective, the state’s approach to vocational education is inappropriate. No action is taken to make vocational schools respected and prepare professional workers there. Even though we would not need to hire foreigners if our vocational schools were good enough.

Did unemployment benefits spoil people?

The President of the Lithuanian Business Confederation Valdas Sutkus admitted that problems exist when there is a lack of workers despite the rising number of unemployed people.

“I cannot comment on particular professions as I have not seen the list yet. However, there are several aspects of the situation when unemployment rises in spite of the fact that the scarcity of workers exists.

One problem is that the number of people who are chronically and systematically jobless is certainly increasing in Lithuania. Unemployment benefits increase and it is not worthy to work. Category of people who receive the unemployment benefits, use various discounts and are able to live without working is forming. In this way, the discrepancy between the shortage of workers and the increase in the unemployment rate rises,” commented the President of the Confederation.

On the other hand, he also believes that the current vocational education is not efficient enough to meet the demand of professional workers.

“We always raise this problem. To be fair, even now there are ongoing discussions with the Government in regard to the so-called apprenticeship system. It would be financed by the state and businesses. The employer would hire students and combine their theoretical studies with practical work in a firm. From our point of view, this system will be very useful if it functions well.”

According to V. Sutkus, this apprenticeship system would guarantee a workplace for students in advance and allow businesses to prepare students in line with their needs. It would also open new opportunities to retrain older unemployed people whose skills do not match current needs.

How the list is created

The Employment Service in its comment explained that twice a year it composes the List of professions in short supply according to types of economic activities in Lithuania in order to match the supply of labour force to the demand. If foreigner’s profession is included in this list, he/she can arrive to work in Lithuania without a permit of the Employment Service.

After analysing the situation of every profession in the labour market, the Employment Service made a project of the List of professions in short supply. Every profession had to match these criteria:

  • Registered vacancies in industrial and construction sectors throughout the year have exceeded the number of people searching for a job at least two times; in the service sector – at least five times;
  • The profession is assigned to the large employment opportunities group in the Employment opportunities barometer;
  • Employers or associated structures of employers have submitted motivated and reasoned information to the Employment Service on the forecasted growth of the profession’s demand during the next six months. Otherwise, information, which was received from municipalities and foreign investment promotion agency about investments and job creation, as well as the registered number of people searching for a job in a particular field, would not be sufficient;
  • The List of professions in short supply is introduced to the Trilateral Council under the Employment Service, which is made up of representatives of employers, employees and the Government. They also share their suggestions.

The Employment Service also noted that foreigners do not need to receive a work permit if they come to Lithuania to work and their profession is included in the List of professions in short supply according to types of economic activities. They can also receive visas and residence permits in a simpler way.

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