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Last Updated: Friday, 13 January 2006, 11:36 GMT
Gdansk appeal for Ukraine workers
By Jan Repa
BBC Europe analyst

Polish workers
Polish shipyards are struggling to survive
The manager of the Gdansk Shipyard in Poland has appealed for workers from neighbouring Ukraine to help fill jobs vacated by emigrating Polish workers.

The shipyard, which once employed 17,000 workers, was birthplace of the Solidarity movement 25 years ago.

Today there are barely 3,000 workers left. Poland has the highest official unemployment rate of any European Union member state, at 17%.

The Polish economy has seen huge changes since the fall of communism.

For a start, the economy is much bigger. It is more modern. Productivity has risen dramatically. There are five times as many people in higher education as there were 15 years ago.

But for the heavy industries built up under Communism - many serving the old Soviet military-industrial complex - it has been a testing time. Poland's shipyards are a case in point.


In terms of tonnage built, Poland ranks fifth in the world - after South Korea, Japan, China and Germany. But Polish shipyards are struggling to survive. Many of the ships being built today were contracted five or so years ago, when world prices were low.

Among the Polish shipbuilding industry's weaknesses, experts cite persistent over-manning, outdated construction facilities, and the departure of skilled workers.

Among its strengths, they cite good research-and-development facilities, cheap labour costs, and a good network of domestic equipment suppliers.

Just as Poles have sought new employment opportunities in western Europe, so people from Poland's poorer eastern neighbour, Ukraine, have been seeking work in central Europe - or work in various mainly menial jobs in Britain, Spain and elsewhere.

Last summer, Poland and Ukraine signed an agreement regulating the status of around 200,000 Ukrainian seasonal workers in Poland. Some estimates put the real figure much higher.

Labour laws

Economic imperatives have a way of undermining official restrictions.

When trades unions in Finland, for instance, objected to cheaper labour moving in from nearby Estonia, Finnish companies responded by building production facilities in Estonia.

Polish manufacturers of fitted furniture are free to export to neighbouring Germany - but German regulations insist that the installation should be carried out by local Germans.

In reality, manufacturers and clients turn a blind eye to a bit of "cash only" help from delivery men. In the case of Ukrainians working in Polish shipyards, there would seem to be no obvious impediments - any more than there are to Africans, for instance, working in the British health service.

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