Estonian labor force may flow to Europe

  • 2002-12-19
  • Aleksei Gunter

About half of Estonia's population might consider working abroad after EU accession, and some intend to do that in the next five years, according to a recent labor market survey published last week.

Conducted by the ES Turu-Uuringute pollster in November, the survey said that 52 percent of the respondents, mostly younger men with higher education, said they could probably work after the EU accession, slating better career opportunities, higher living standards and better social welfare systems as the main reasons.

The respondents named Sweden, Finland, U.K. and Denmark as the most probable destination countries for future employment.

After EU accession, Estonian citizens would no longer require a permit to work in the member states which agreed to open their labor markets in accordance with the free movement of people regulation.

As of early December, five EU countries (U.K., Ireland, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands) promised to welcome immigrant laborers from the new member states.

Germany, Finland and Austria are asking for a transition period being afraid of cheap labor flooding in from Eastern and Southeastern Europe.

Alice Lugna, head of the information department of the labor market board under the Ministry of Social Affairs, said the survey gave no ground for panic.

"Similar surveys have been carried out before. They all showed most of Estonian residents did not study the opportunities of working abroad in detail," said Lugna.

A special project aimed at helping Estonian workers find jobs in Germany has been available from 1995, and the labor market board advertised extensively at the job centers.

"However, only 10 to 15 people a year use this opportunity and go to Germany, although the project capacity is 200 people," Lugna said.

Lugna said she thought that poor language command could be the main reason why Estonians would not rush to work abroad. "Besides, it is difficult to find a job in a strange country with strange culture. If people go to work abroad, they prefer the U.K., Ireland, Germany and France, because the official languages of these countries are more popular," said Lugna.

Lugna said Estonia should not expect a major flow of foreign laborers after EU accession and might get a minor number of new workers from the other new member states since the Baltic country has higher wages compared to some other countries.

"Only some 3 percent of the EU citizens use the freedom of working abroad," said Lugna.

In November, the general unemployment rate in Estonia was 5.6 percent of population aged 15 to 63, or 45,917 people, according to the labor market board.