Lithuanians brand proposed EU moratorium unfair

  • 2001-04-19
  • Mark Taylor
VILNIUS - European Union officials have notified candidate countries of their intention to go ahead with a five-to seven-year moratorium on the free movement of labor from candidate countries. Although the April 11 decision by the European Commission to impose a five-year transition period on Baltic countries is worrying many people, Lithuanians hope that getting a job abroad will become easier.

Like Estonia, Lithuania has a serious unemployment problem. Although the unemployment rate in Lithuania for March was 13.2 percent, unofficial figures put it at roughly 16 percent. Many people feel that the moratorium would be unfair, particularly in light of the fact that many countries are still looking for workers in many different fields.

Liongina Beinoraviciene, head of foreign relations at the Lithuanian Labor Exchange, says that "countries such as Germany, Ireland and Sweden continue to look for people to fill positions in quite a few occupations, such as construction, tourism and agriculture."

She believes that the moratorium is a bad idea and unfounded.

"Maybe countries are afraid, but I don't imagine that there would be a huge influx of workers to the EU, because not every Lithuanian can speak one of the languages and not everyone wants to go," said Beinoraviciene. According to statistics from the Labor Exchange, only 800 people applied for work abroad through them.

According to Beinoraviciene, finding employment abroad can be tricky. Bureaucracy and language are only two of the potential problems. And getting a work permit often takes a long time.

"It's not a good process. Many people have to wait between six months to a year for a permit," she said.

Beinoraviciene believes that the problem lies with a lack of agreements on labor movement between Lithuania and other countries.

Kesutitis Krisciunas, director of the Lithuanian chapter of the Young Social Democrat Organization, agrees and thinks that the government should do more to make it easier for people to find work abroad.

"By making it easier for Lithuanians to find a job abroad, more people would find jobs and so help both Lithuania and other countries meet their employment needs," he said.

Krisciunas is especially concerned about young people in Lithuania and has been asking ambassadors for information on employment opportunities for them abroad.

"I believe that the lack of employment in Lithuania has driven people to go abroad illegally and this has, of course, damaged Lithuania's image," he said.

Krisciunas called on government negotiators with the European Union to keep the EU from introducing the moratorium. He called the transition period unfair and thinks that the employment problems of both Lithuania and the EU would be alleviated by making it easier for Lithuanians to work in the EU.

Krisciunas would like to invite ambassadors to a round table discussion on the issue.

Rimantas Kairelis, vice minister for employment and social affairs, understands the concerns of Krisciunas, but feels that the government is doing its job.

"The government has introduced measures to deal with the unemployment problem by promoting job creation, especially in small- and medium-sized businesses," Kairelis told The Baltic Times.

The vice minister added that he felt that EU countries should not be worrying about Lithuania. He refused to believe that there could be a flood of people heading to the EU once Lithuania becomes a member. He pointed to surveys showing that only 2 percent of Lithuanians want to work abroad.

Kairelis also said that only 1,000 to 2,000 people went abroad last year.

EireLita is one of Vilnius' most recognizable foreign recruitment agencies. It hires people for the Irish labor market and has been operating for just over a year. Company Director Ausra Purauckyte says that many people have found jobs through her company.

She also says that Ireland still needs people.

"Service industry-related jobs such as waiters and waitresses, hotel workers, and administrators are some of the positions waiting to be filled," Purauckyte explained.

Her company was the first recruitment agency of its kind and is one of about 15 licensed recruitment agencies. It helps people find jobs by providing job seekers with information on openings in Ireland, asks them about their preferred line of work, and matches them with a potential employer.

EireLita has helped more than 300 people find jobs in the past year.

Both Kairelis and Beinoraviciene believe that more opportunities to work abroad will help ease the employment situation in Lithuania. They agreed that an increase in bilateral labor agreements with other countries was needed. Kairelis hopes that EU membership will help, but believes that the unemployment problem needs to be solved first. He said that the government is aiming for an unemployment rate of 7 percent by 2004.