Study finds half of Polish businesses employ Ukrainian workers

6 min read

The rapid increase in the number of Ukrainian workers in Poland has significant implications for the country’s economy. According to a recent survey by HR consultancy Personnel Service, half of businesses in Poland now employ Ukrainian workers, up significantly from the previous year.

Higher positions

The study also revealed that Ukrainians are increasingly occupying higher-level positions in the Polish labour market, indicating a shift in the demographics of the country’s immigrant workforce.

The growth of the Ukrainian community in Poland can be attributed to a wave of refugees who found refuge in the country following the outbreak of war in Ukraine. The simplified process granting Ukrainian refugees access to the labour market has been used over 900,000 times since it was introduced by the government a year ago.

Foreign workers in Poland

Currently, almost 740,000 of the foreign workers registered in Poland’s social insurance system are Ukrainians, making them the largest immigrant group in the country.

The rise in the number of Ukrainian workers in Poland has led to a significant increase in the number of businesses employing them. The Personnel Service survey found that 49% of the firms it surveyed had at least one Ukrainian employee, compared to 34% in the previous year.

Furthermore, almost half (46%) of the employers surveyed had a positive attitude towards employees from Ukraine, with 30% planning to seek workers from Ukraine over the next 12 months.

The increase in the number of Ukrainian workers in Poland has also led to a shift in the demographics of the country’s immigrant workforce. Many Ukrainian men who had previously worked in sectors such as construction, manufacturing, and transport returned home last year to defend their country following Russia’s invasion. Meanwhile, the vast majority of new arrivals since then have been women and children, who have fled as refugees, with most men banned from leaving Ukraine during the war.

Shift in demographics

This shift in demographics has led to changes in the qualifications and skill sets of the Ukrainian workers in Poland. Many of the refugees who came to Poland were well-qualified people with higher education, whereas before the war, migrants often came from Ukraine for seasonal jobs in sectors such as agriculture or construction. This has led to an increase in the number of Ukrainian workers occupying higher-level positions in the Polish labour market.

Almost one in three Ukrainian employees (32%) work as middle managers, representing an increase of 13.5 percentage points compared to the previous year, and the share of Ukrainian workers employed as top-level managers rose by 2.5 percentage points to 9%.

Employers value Ukrainian employees for their quick adaptation (44%), work ethic (39%), and fast language acquisition (32%).

Despite the positive implications of the increase in the number of Ukrainian workers in Poland, there are also some concerns. The Personnel Service survey revealed that Ukrainian workers most commonly earn between 25 zloty and 29.9 zloty gross per hour (€5.33-6.38), compared to an average hourly wage of 44.16 across all workers. Additionally, the report highlighted a worrying increase in the proportion of employers admitting to offering staff from the east a rate below the minimum wage, rising from 1% in the previous survey to 5%.

Race to the bottom?

The low wages paid to Ukrainian workers could lead to a “race to the bottom” in the labour market, as businesses seek to cut costs by employing workers on lower wages. This could lead to a situation where Polish workers are displaced by cheaper, immigrant labour, which could have a negative impact on the country’s economy.

However, it is important to note that the Polish government has introduced measures to protect workers from exploitation. In 2020, the government introduced a minimum wage of 2,800 zloty per month, which is set to increase to 3,000 zloty per month in 2021. Additionally, the government has introduced a range of measures to protect foreign workers.

Overall, the trend of increasing numbers of Ukrainian workers in Poland and their growing presence in higher-level positions represents a significant shift in the Polish labor market. While this trend has undoubtedly brought benefits to Polish businesses in need of labor and to Ukrainian workers in need of employment, it has also raised some concerns about the treatment and working conditions of these workers.

The fact that nearly one in five Ukrainian workers in Poland earn less than the minimum wage is particularly concerning, as this suggests that many employers are taking advantage of the large pool of available workers to drive down wages. While it is understandable that businesses may wish to minimize labor costs, it is important that they do not do so at the expense of workers’ rights and livelihoods.

In addition to these concerns, the growing reliance on Ukrainian labor also highlights broader issues related to Poland’s economy and workforce. While many Polish businesses have struggled to find enough workers in recent years, particularly in low-skilled and physically demanding jobs, the country’s labor force has been shrinking due to demographic trends and emigration.

Policies to protect workers

To address these challenges, the Polish government has introduced a range of policies aimed at attracting workers from abroad, including simplified procedures for hiring foreign workers and programs to encourage migration from Ukraine and other neighboring countries. While these policies have had some success, they have also been criticized for exacerbating labor market inequalities and for failing to address underlying issues such as low productivity and poor working conditions.

The growing presence of Ukrainian workers in Poland’s labor market is a complex issue that requires careful consideration and attention from policymakers, businesses, and civil society. While it has undoubtedly brought benefits to both sides, it also raises important questions about labor market dynamics, social justice, and the role of immigration in economic development.

As Poland continues to face demographic challenges and labor shortages, it is likely that the country will need to rely on foreign workers to fill the gap. However, this should not come at the expense of workers’ rights, dignity, and wellbeing.

Instead, policymakers and businesses should work together to create a fair, inclusive, and sustainable labor market that benefits all workers, regardless of their nationality or background. Only then can Poland fully realize the potential of its diverse and dynamic workforce, and ensure that its economy remains strong and resilient in the years to come.

Agnes Jaworski

Agnes Jaworski is a Polish columnist who specializes in domestic affairs. Her insights and analysis of Poland's political, social, and economic landscape are highly valued by readers across the country. She is known for her analytical approach and ability to explain complex issues in a clear and accessible manner. Agnes has a strong track record of breaking news and providing insightful commentary on developments within Poland.

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