Are welders in demand in EU countries

economy : Lure from the east

Dusseldorf - For years they watched impotently as their jobs disappeared in the East, now the first employees are following behind: Two years after the EU's eastward expansion, companies from the Czech Republic, Poland and other reform states are desperately looking for workers in Germany as well. Not only managers in suits and costumes are in demand. Even workers in overalls and ordinary employees such as call center agents dare to go behind the former iron curtain.

"You are practically forced to go here," says Yves Ulitzka, a locksmith from Saxony-Anhalt. At the Siemens plant in Prague, he is converting bogies for the new Zurich S-Bahn. The 35-year-old, whose family fled the Russians from Silesia (now Poland) in World War II, used to do almost the same job in the now closed Bombardier wagon building plant in Halle-Ammendorf.

“Skilled workers are absolutely in short supply in Prague,” confirms Robert Neurauther from the personnel leasing company Ur-Zeit, which is constantly looking for locksmiths, painters and welders for the Czech Siemens wagon building through the Federal Employment Agency. Around 25 German temporary workers are currently working on the double-decker S-Bahn at the plant. You should stay in the Czech Republic for up to several years. They visit the family at home every few weeks.

There are also opportunities for job seekers at the suppliers of the Czech automobile plants from Skoda, Toyota and soon to be Hyundai, who have so far associated fear of their existence with the relocation of jobs to the east. The North Rhine-Westphalian plastics coater Isoflock is looking for "urgently" painters for its Liberec location (Northern Bohemia) in job advertisements. "No training and no knowledge of the Czech Republic required," it says. Ironically, works by German parent companies that wanted to produce cheaply in the East are now attracting applicants from the Federal Republic. Many were surprised by rapid economic growth and significantly rising wages - developments that they themselves inspired with their massive investments. "We are not making any progress with our expansion plans in the Czech Republic because there is a lack of skilled workers and they are becoming more and more expensive," says Isoflock board member Göran Walter.

A development that does not surprise the head of the Hamburg World Economic Institute (HWWI), Thomas Straubhaar. "Now what happened when the EU expanded to include Spain and Portugal is being repeated: Even skilled workers are no longer just moving in one direction, but in both directions," says Straubhaar (see interview).

Job agencies have now discovered the east-west migration as a business area. "We are experiencing dramatic growth in this area," says the Europe spokesman for the Monster job exchange, Kai Deininger. The number of offers from Poland for an international audience doubled to 3,600 between the beginning of 2005 and March of this year. For the Czech Republic, Monster posted an increase of 40 percent to almost 8,200 offers. 300 employees from all over the world now work in the Monster Development Center on Wenceslas Square in Prague, including ten Germans.

The Federal Employment Agency (BA) is also registering the boom in the east. “Our agents put out their feelers there,” says Monika Varnhagen, Director of the Central Agency for Employment Placement of the BA. From January to March 2006, BA-European Service placed 14 skilled workers in Central and Eastern Europe, almost as many as in 2005.

Many Germans are still deterred by the earning potential. Auto industry supplier Isoflock offers external interested parties 620 euros - per month. The Siemens contract workers in Prague, on the other hand, initially receive a western salary of around 1700 euros. According to information not confirmed by Siemens, the plant offers a local tariff of a good 1000 euros for a connection contract.

After all: while wages are stagnating in Germany, they are rising rapidly in the Czech Republic. With economic growth of almost seven percent (2005), salaries have increased by 3.5 to 6.5 percent in real terms since 2003 alone, according to state statistics. “The wage level in the Prague region is getting closer and closer to that of Saxony and Thuringia,” complains Helmut Froböse, head of HR at the Lower Saxony auto supplier Schnellecke.

In Poland, wages have recently increased not quite as abundantly as in the Czech Republic, Slovakia or the Baltic states, also because of the high unemployment rate of almost 20 percent. Nevertheless, the booming industries are also running out of employees in their eastern neighbors.

Almost 40 Germans have applied for offers from the Apexim gas station chain along the German-Polish border since the beginning of the year, says Jacek Werner, who is looking for staff for the company. Seven Germans are currently working at the stations, most of them come from the border region. Werner wants to employ 20 Germans soon. Even unemployed people from Dortmund and Kassel have applied for the 1,000-euro jobs.

The call centers have also discovered the east. From Prague or Warsaw, employees should explain to German customers how to connect their washing machines. Sitel in Warsaw offers a starting salary of three euros an hour. The company has already found a young man, says a spokeswoman. He found what he was looking for in Germany in vain: a permanent employment contract.

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