Construction sites, factory assembly lines, and warehouses across Central Europe are trying to fill vacancies after tens of thousands of Ukrainian men deserted blue-collar employment to return home following Russia’s invasion of their nation.
Ukrainian laborers had flooded to Central Europe in the previous decade, enticed by greater earnings and encouraged by a relaxation of visa regulations, to fill jobs in construction, the automotive sector, and heavy industries that were not well compensated enough for local workers.
Since Russia’s invasion on February 24, many of these workers have returned home to aid the war effort, increasing labor shortages in some of Europe’s most industrialized economies.
According to 14 company executives, recruiters, industry organisations, and economists interviewed by Reuters in Poland and the Czech Republic, the exodus of Ukrainian labor is causing growing prices and delays in manufacturing orders and building work.
Ukrainians were the most numerous immigrant workers in Central Europe prior to the Russian invasion. According to industry trade organisations, Poland and the Czech Republic housed over 600,000 and more than 200,000 Ukrainian workers, respectively.
According to the Employers of Poland trade association, which represents 19,000 enterprises, around 150,000 Ukrainian workers, mostly men, have departed Poland since the beginning of the war.
According to Wieslaw Nowak, CEO of the Polish tram and railway line builder ZUE Group, one of its subcontractors recently failed to complete track laying work because nearly all of its 30 Ukrainian workers had departed.
“Many companies are looking for employees on a massive scale at various construction sites due to large outflows,” he told Reuters.
“It certainly affects the cost and pace of work because if someone loses several dozen employees at the same time rebuilding a team takes far more than a matter of a few days.”
While the European Central Bank predicted in June that an influx of Ukrainian refugees would alleviate a labor shortage in the eurozone, the opposite appears to be happening in Europe’s industrialised economies outside the currency bloc.
Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian immigrants, mostly women and children, who have come in the region are not a good fit for many of the available jobs. Often, the positions are in physically demanding industries such as construction, manufacturing, or foundries, where there are legislative restrictions on how much female workers can lift.
Companies are trying to find imaginative solutions to fill workforce shortfalls, from training female refugees to operate forklift trucks to hiring new workers in Asia, according to industry executives.
However, for many businesses already fighting to recover from the economic impact of the COVID outbreak and now facing substantial increases in energy expenses and inflation as a result of the conflict, the unexpected scarcity of labor poses a significant obstacle.
“The loss of Ukrainian workers has deepened the problems companies are facing,” Radek Spicar, vice president of the Czech Federation of Industry, told Reuters. “Companies say they can’t cover all the demand from business partners: they deliver with delays and pay penalties.”