Commission to examine reasons why workers are moving abroad

  • 2005-12-14
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - The trend of workers emigrating for better job opportunities abroad has become one of the more pressing issues facing Latvia 's and the Baltics in general 's with many leaders worried that those leaving may never return.

Since there are few reliable figures on the number of people that have left the country to work elsewhere, the president's strategic analysis commission will travel to Ireland Dec. 14- 18 to interview some of the perhaps 40,000 Latvians that have chosen to move there.

The commission has been charged to ascertain how many may return home. The numbers will help the government determine labor and immigration policy in the next few years, since, if the trend continues, Latvia will soon face an acute demographic crisis that will only be cured by importing working hands.

"The people chosen to go to Ireland have a very good understanding of migration issues, and understand the theoretical framework," Zaneta Ozolins, head of the strategic analysis commission said of Marika Laizane-Jurkane, Ivars Indans, Aija Lulle and Liene Znotina the four researchers from the commission headed to Ireland.

Paradoxically, the emigration abroad is taking place during a spectacular economic boom 's growth amounting to over 11 percent in the third quarter 's but the expansion has not made its way to much of the countryside, which is still impoverished.

The population loss, due mostly to emigrants that choose not to return, is compounded with one of the most severe population decreases in the European Union.

Ozolina, however, believes that the worst of the problem has passed. "I don't think that migration is a major problem anymore," she said, adding that the biggest flow "is already over."

Still, commission members will try to discover "how they think about their future in Latvia, do they want to come back," Ozolina said.

Stories of the Latvian worker struggling to earn a living in Ireland have made it into the international media, with The Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, and the Associated Press recently running pieces on the poor living conditions that have driven many Latvians to work elsewhere.

The Latvian media has also covered the movement extensively, with the television program Panorama devoting a half hour to a show called "Latvian life stories in Ireland."

Recently, a number of banking analysts claimed that part of the country's high rate of inflation was due to repatriated funds from Latvians working abroad. One analyst put the figure at 20 million lats (29 mln euros) a month.

Lithuania and Estonia are also witnessing the same trend. Tens of thousands of Lithuanians have moved to countries like Ireland for better paying jobs.

Ireland was one of three countries in the EU that did not impose restrictions on the free movement of labor from the new member states. Sweden and the United Kingdom are two other countries that have become destinations for Latvian workers.

But tension over workers from poorer member states has surfaced in the recipient countries. In Ireland, nearly a hundred thousand people reportedly took to the streets to protest the use of Eastern European labor on Irish ferries at below the minimum wage. Some of the protestors were reportedly carrying signs saying "No slave ships on Irish seas."

Some 500 Irish workers will reportedly lose their jobs in favor of mainly Latvian workers ready to work for less than Ireland's minimum wage.

In Sweden, the Latvian construction company Laval and Partners became embroiled in a fight with local unions due to the lower wages paid to their Latvian employees. The construction on a school outside of Stockholm was halted, and has since been in litigation. It was debated at the European Parliament, and may ultimately be decided at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.