Poland now a top des­ti­na­tion for Ukraini­ans seek­ing bet­ter pay and work­ing con­di­tions

Kyiv Post Legal Quarterly - - Contents - By Yu­liana Ro­manyshyn ro­[email protected]­post.com

GDANSK, Poland — When Yaroslava Zagorska was 18 years old, she and her mother packed their suit­cases, left their Lviv apart­ment and moved to a city in north­ern Poland near the Baltic Sea. Gdansk, lo­cated some 1,200 kilo­me­ters from Kyiv, now is home for Zagorska and thou­sands of other Ukraini­ans.

“I ar­rived sim­ply as a worker to earn money,” Zagorska said, re­call­ing her ar­rival in Poland in the early 2000s.

She stud­ied at a pri­vate univer­sity and worked as a waiter in a bar for over 15 years, while her mom worked as a cook in the kitchen there. Zagorska had no plans to stay at first, but she later mar­ried a Pole and launched her own busi­ness.

She de­cided to bring tra­di­tional Ukrainian cui­sine to the Pol­ish mar­ket, and it paid off.

To­day, Zagorska owns Pierogi Lwowskie, a cafe in Gdansk that serves Ukrainian dumplings, or varenyky. Her small busi­ness em­ploys 10 peo­ple, most of them Ukraini­ans.

“I never thought that we would be able to de­velop so quickly,” she said.

But sto­ries like Zagorska’s are not usual for Ukraini­ans that move to Poland in search of work. Es­ti­mates of the num­ber of Ukraini­ans

work­ing in Poland vary widely, from 500,000 to 2 mil­lion, de­pend­ing on the source. Some come to work as sea­sonal work­ers, some take job of­fers from Pol­ish com­pa­nies, some pur­sue ca­reers in tech, while oth­ers take ad­van­tage of the visa-free regime Ukraine now has with most Euro­pean Union coun­tries, which al­lows them to spend up to 90 days in the Schen­gen area (with­out a work per­mit).

The av­er­age wage dif­fer­ence is enor­mous: $326 monthly in Ukraine com­pared to at least $1,200 monthly in Poland.

Pomera­nian Voivode­ship, a province in north­west­ern Poland with Gdansk as its cap­i­tal, is­sued in 2017 over 216,000 work per­mits to Ukraini­ans, who are the big­gest group among all for­eign work­ers, ac­cord­ing to Poland’s Min­istry of Fam­ily, La­bor and So­cial Pol­icy.

And the num­bers are grow­ing. The Ukrainian and Rus­sian lan­guages are now heard on the streets of Gdansk al­most as of­ten as Pol­ish, taxi driv­ers speak those lan­guages too, and cur­rency ex­change of­fices ad­ver­tise cur­rency trans­fers in Ukrainian.

It’s a win-win sit­u­a­tion, ex­perts say, as la­bor is in strong de­mand in the re­gion, whether it be fac­tory work­ers or high-level en­gi­neers.

Sup­ply and de­mand

The fac­tors that have pushed Ukraini­ans to look for bet­ter op­tions in Poland are Ukraine’s poor eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion, the lack of po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity and low salaries. Poland’s close prox­im­ity, higher salaries and work­ing stan­dards, as well as its sim­i­lar lan­guage and men­tal­ity, make the coun­try an at­trac­tive op­tion.

But it’s not only Ukraini­ans who ben­e­fit from la­bor mi­gra­tion. Poland has an over­sup­ply of va­can­cies in its boom­ing in­dus­tries.

And the Pomera­nia re­gion in par­tic­u­lar has a lot of jobs to of­fer, as its econ­omy prof­its from one of the big­gest ports on the Baltic Sea and its re­lated in­dus­tries — ship­yards, en­gi­neer­ing fa­cil­i­ties and lo­gis­tics — man­u­fac­tur­ing and agri­cul­ture, along with the dozens of tech com­pa­nies and in­ter­na­tional busi­nesses that have re­cently moved their ser­vice cen­ters and op­er­a­tions to the re­gion.

Marcin Grze­gory, a deputy di­rec­tor of the re­gional non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion In­vest in Pomera­nia, said the boom­ing econ­omy in the re­gion es­pe­cially needs peo­ple who are ready to in­vest in their ca­reer and learn.

“So if you want to ex­pand your ca­reer, but do not want to go to the far side of Europe or the world, there is al­ways Poland… and it’s in huge de­mand of ta­lent,” Grze­gory said.

The big­gest ap­petite is for IT work­ers, ac­cord­ing to Grze­gory. But once the tech peo­ple move to Poland, they also ex­plore other coun­tries and can move fur­ther, where “it’s even bet­ter paid,” he said.

Ukraini­ans fill va­can­cies in sec­tors like re­search and de­vel­op­ment, elec­tron­ics pro­duc­tion, and ser­vices for big Western com­pa­nies like Thom­son Reuters. The mar­itime in­dus­try is an­other prom­i­nent field in the re­gion, and it needs peo­ple for lo­gis­tics, en­gi­neer­ing, and con­struc­tion.

Due to bet­ter liv­ing con­di­tions and the rule of law, some Ukrainian tech com­pa­nies have moved to Poland or opened of­fices there. This is the case for Ukrainian tech firm Cik­lum, a soft­ware com­pany that launched its of­fice in Gdansk in 2016.

Marcin Ko odziejczyk, the in­ter­na­tional di­rec­tor at Grupa Pro­gres re­cruit­ment agency, said re­cently there has been a change in the re­quire­ments of Ukraini­ans mov­ing abroad — more and more are look­ing for high-skilled jobs.

At his com­pany, which has opened five of­fices in Ukraine since 2016, around 15 per­cent of the 300 em­ploy­ees are Ukraini­ans.

“They are typ­i­cal white-col­lar work­ers, and five of them are man­agers,” Ko odziejczyk said.

Sea­sonal ad­van­tage

Al­though Grze­gory said Pomera­nia is rather far from Ukraine to at­tract sea­sonal work­ers, some still go there.

For ex­am­ple, Olek­sandr Repetyuk went to Gdansk to build pri­vate houses. He typ­i­cally goes to Poland to work for sev­eral months, and then re­turns to his fam­ily in Ukraine’s Kh­mel­nyt­skyi Oblast.

“I came sim­ply for work,” Repetyuk told the Kyiv Post at the Sun­day church ser­vice at the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Gdansk which he at­tended with his brother.

Typ­i­cally, work­ers like Repetyuk, who come to Gdansk for short-term jobs, do not so­cial­ize with the Ukrainian di­as­pora. They also rarely go to res­tau­rants or spend money on other leisure ac­tiv­i­ties, as they are try­ing to save ev­ery penny. In Repetyuk’s case, he has to pay off a loan he took to buy an apart­ment.

“You can find a job there (in ukraine) as well, but I don’t like it be­cause it takes too much time to earn what I want,” Repetyuk said.

As a builder, he makes more than $1,000 per month in Poland, while the most he can earn in his home­town would be half of that, he said.

It’s Repetyuk’s sec­ond time as a worker in Poland, and his first with a bio­met­ric pass­port. Af­ter al­most three months, he has to re­turn to Ukraine un­der the visa-free regime rules. But this time, his re­turn back home will be short — he said he plans to get a work per­mit and re­turn to do more con­struc­tion work.

Work­ing con­di­tions

Al­though Repetyuk is sat­is­fied with his Pol­ish work­ing and liv­ing con­di­tions, work­ing with­out a per­mit is a risky busi­ness, as em­ploy­ees are in dan­ger of be­ing ripped off. Al­ready sav­ing money on not hav­ing to pay wage taxes, the em­ployer might also de­cide to not pro­vide a proper liv­ing space, health in­sur­ance, as well as de­lay pay­ments or sim­ply not pay at all.

Me­dia have re­ported cases of Ukraini­ans be­ing dressed in blue-and-yel­low uni­forms at a fac­tory site to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them from other work­ers. In an­other case, builders never re­ceived their salaries for their work as they had to leave Poland af­ter their three-month term ex­pired, said Lev Zakharchyshyn, the Ukrainian con­sul in Gdansk.

Ten­sions be­tween Ukraini­ans and Poles have re­cently been fu­eled by the anti-ukrainian rhetoric of the na­tion­al­ist and con­ser­va­tive Prawo i spraw­iedliwo (Law and Jus­tice) party. The party of­ten raises con­tro­ver­sial top­ics re­gard­ing the his­tory of the two na­tions, and pur­sues a Pol­ish right-wing agenda.


Nev­er­the­less, Ukraine’s la­bor flow to Poland is a win­win sit­u­a­tion for both coun­tries — va­can­cies in Poland are filled, while Ukraini­ans make money that they send back home. Ac­cord­ing to the Pol­ish For­eign Min­istry, Ukraini­ans sent over $3.2 bil­lion back home in 2017. While it was mostly Ukraini­ans from the coun­try’s western re­gions that used to go abroad to make money, Rus­sia’s war against Ukraine in its east­ern Don­bas re­gion has in­creased the flow of Ukraini­ans com­ing from the east. Zakharchyshyn said that most Ukraini­ans in Pomera­nia now come from Ivano-frankivsk Oblast in the west, and Donetsk Oblast in the east. “I be­lieve that Poland and Ukraine should come to an agree­ment,” Zakharchyshyn said. “I think we are much more alike than dif­fer­ent.”

Yaroslava Zagorska, the owner of Pierogi Lwowskie cafe, presents her tra­di­tional Ukrainian cui­sine at an event in the Pol­ish city of Gdansk on Oct. 15. (Cour­tesy of Pierogi Lwowskie)

Be­cause of the dif­fer­ence in salaries in Ukraine and Poland, even Ukraini­ans with higher ed­u­ca­tion of­ten take up sea­sonal jobs in Poland.

A view of the Stocz­nia Gdańska ship­yard in Gdansk, Poland, where many Ukraini­ans have found work. (Alessan­dro Conidi)

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