Poland's fear of losing skilled workers becomes reality


Not only prices have been relatively stable since EU membership; salaries too have remained the same, despite the fact that - with the liberalisation of labour market restraints - skilled workers could earn significantly more in the western EU member states. Has Central Europe's fear of the 'brain drain' become reality? Well, it appears that skilled workers have not been too keen to leave home - except in Poland, where the country struggling with 19% unemployment has welcomed the free labour market in Ireland, Sweden, and especially the UK.

Does this sound send shivers down your spine? Well, what is torture to some, may be a gateway to professional success and family security to others. Britain's National Health Service has decided to employ some 200 dentists from Poland to "fill the gap" in some areas where specialists have not been widely available. Mike Stonard from the Great Yarmouth PCT thus explains the reasons for targeting Poland.

'Poland is a new EU country, so it's relatively easy to recruit professionals from Poland to come and work in England. And secondly, because there is, as I understand, a surplus of dentists in Poland who are willing to come and work here, who are very well qualified, very experienced and fit in very well here and very well liked by patients. So, really Poland was an obvious place to look to.'

Doctor Katarzyna Zaton is one of the Polish dentists who found employment in Britain under the NHS scheme. What motivated her to try her luck in the UK?

'First of all I have a job in England, but I was unemployed in Poland. My husband couldn't find work in Poland and he was already welcomed in Ireland.'

Doctor Zaton's work isn't any different in the Norfolk area than it had been back in Poland. However, the similarities end when it comes to remuneration. On the average, dentists in the UK earn four to six times as much as their colleagues in Poland. Does this find reflection in their work? Are British employers satisfied with the Poles' performance? Carol Plummer of the Bradwell Medical Center.

'It is excellent. They are highly skilled, highly qualified, caring people who do a great job. We have six Polish dentists in situ at the moment. All the patients, the reaction from all the patients is most favourable. They are very, very happy with the professionalism of Polish dentists and their clinical skills.'

Poles from the medical profession are not the only ones sought by employers on the British labor market. Besides highly qualified professionals, skilled workers are also scouted for. Robert Owsiany from the London-based RS Construction company is looking for hard working, dedicated Poles.

'Now there's lots of people who are taking courses and then they are planning electro-technical courses. Because if you want to be an electrician, or plumber here, you have to have a course. And then, for example, plumbers have to be registered, etc. And they are taking such courses and then they are leaving. And I'm always more happy to employ Polish people than English.'

So, judging by Polish and British experience one year after EU enlargement, the free flow of labor is not an empty phrase. People know what's best and, if they do, so should their governments.