WARSAW, June 14 - For Oleksandar Potashnyi, a Warsaw Uber
driver from Kiev, the European Union's move this month to waive
visas for Ukrainians now means he can go further west as a
tourist -- easily.
But for work, he plans to stay in Poland, perhaps opening
his own business in a few years.
The issue for Poland after the EU's waiver is how many of
Potashnyi's compatriots -- possibly as many as a million of whom
work in the country -- will do the same, and how many will move
on to Germany and the like.
It is a crucial question for the Polish central bank, in
particular, as it watches for signs of wage pressures gradually
accelerating throughout the economy.
Potashnyi, a 27-year-old who left Ukraine a year ago to
exchange a $400 monthly wage as a taxi driver for the
$1,300-$1,400 he earns with Uber, reckons some will go, mostly
those who would otherwise have returned to Ukraine.
"I want to stay, but those who want to return to Ukraine
(now) won't," he said.
The visa waiver means some Ukrainians, especially temporary
construction workers, may take advantage of visa-free travel to
seek higher-paying work further west in the EU, albeit often
That could be a significant part of Poland's work force.
Since Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, plunging
Ukraine into recession and instability, hundreds of thousands of
Ukrainians have sought employment permits in Poland annually.
Economists say this influx has helped keep wage pressures in
Poland - a country of 38 million and 16 million workers - in
check and also facilitated further economic growth. Poland has
one of the fastest aging societies in the EU.
The influx of Ukrainians runs contrary to most of the rest
of Central Europe where years of westward EU emigration have
left steep labour shortages.
Polish central bankers have noted the risk.
"It is very difficult to estimate, but definitely some
Ukrainians working in Poland right now will move, for instance,
to Germany," Monetary Policy Council member Lukasz Hardt said.
"This is a very important factor."
In recent months, central bankers have listed wage pressures
as one of the most significant factors in their assessment of
interest rates as the Polish economy recovers from a dip in
growth last year.
ROLE OF LABOUR
For now, the central bank is signalling borrowing costs will
remain at record lows, possibly through 2018, with wage growth
at around 4 percent annually. Unemployment rates are at their
lowest since Poland's transition from communism in the early
1990s, but the Ukrainians are filling the job shortages and
keeping wage growth from spiking.
That compares with double-digit wage increases in Hungary,
which has accepted significantly fewer Ukrainian workers and has
mounting shortages of labour in construction, healthcare, retail
Polish Central Bank Governor Adam Glapinski said in May that
rate-setters were watching out for potential outflows of
Ukrainian workers but aren't worried for now.
Sources within the bank say, however, that a minority of
policymakers believe wage growth could force a hike sooner,
driven in part by government plans to raise minimum pay and its
move to lower the pension age later this year.
Employers organisations say Poland's conservative government
needs to do more to help migrant workers settle in Poland to
plug labour shortages.
"The legal labour market in Poland will have to compete with
the EU's grey economy," said Andrzej Kubisiak, a spokesman for
Work Service, Poland's biggest employment agency.
One employers group, Pracodawcy RP, said on Monday it
expected the number of Ukrainian workers to rise in Poland in
the short term now that visa requirements are lifted,
potentially reaching 2 million.
But, over time, the group said, some will travel elsewhere
in the EU, seeking higher pay. "It's a pity the government isn't
doing anything to stop them," it said.
In the end, Poland may end up hoping for more newcomers like
"You can earn well in Poland. In three to four years, you
can have a normal life," he said, content to stay.
(Additional reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Pawel Florkiewicz,
Anna Koper, Pawel Sobczak and Justyna Pawlak in WARSAW, Jan
Lopatka in PRAGUE, Gergely Szakacs in BUDAPES; editing by
Justyna Pawlak/Jeremy Gaunt)