ECONOMY

Romania labor drain

BUCHAREST (AFP) – The emigration during the past few years of over 2 million Romanians hoping to find a well-paid job in the West is now forcing Romanian companies to look to neighboring countries, and even as far as China, to counter a labor deficit at home. The exodus toward places like Italy, Spain and Germany cut Romania’s unemployment rate to 5.0 percent and in 2005 brought in some -4.3 billion ($5.5 billion) in money transfers to the families that stayed behind, according to central bank figures. But authorities and employers deplore a widening labor deficit, including in the building sector, which could be lacking up to 300,000 people. «We have received requests from construction companies wanting to hire foreign workers, because skilled labor is becoming scarce,» said the vice president of the association of Romanian building contractors (ARACO), Laurentiu Plosceanu. Finding skilled workers in Moldova or Ukraine is becoming increasingly difficult, as many laborers from those countries have already left to go to work in Western Europe, forcing Romanian employers to recruit in Turkey, Pakistan or China, Plosceanu added. Romanian Deputy Prime Minister Bogdan Pascu confirmed this trend when, on a visit to Lahore last week, he invited Pakistani businessmen to set up in Romania. He said his country was willing to issue 10,000 visas to foreigners in the coming months. At the moment, only some 5,300 foreigners, including 1,000 Chinese, officially work in Romania, but on the black market there could be twice as many. Often from countries poorer than Romania, these workers take on jobs that the locals refuse to do for the minimum wage of -80 ($102) per month. Labor Minister Gheorghe Barbu has said however that the situation is not dramatic and Romania still has a large labor work force, including millions of «invisible jobless,» or residents of rural areas who toil at subsistence agriculture. To draw these people into the job market, the Romanian government plans to launch training programs in the textile, building and tourism industries, where workers are lacking the most. But Barbu also pointed out that «if Romanian employers wish to stop this exodus of workers, they just need to increase salaries to a level comparable to that in EU countries.» The average pay in the building sector is about -200 per month in Romania, compared to -1,500 in Italy, official statistics show. A Romanian nurse earns -150 per month, compared to -1,200 and -2,500 respectively for her German or Swiss counterparts. This wage difference led about 300 nurses in October alone to leave the western Romanian province of Timis for Britain or Italy, a spokeswoman at the province’s hospital said. Several EU members, including Britain, Ireland, Spain and Denmark, have already said however that they will impose limitations on Romanians and Bulgarians wanting to work in those countries. Bucharest immediately condemned the move, with President Traian Basescu accusing London of «discrimination.» Romania has now pledged to seek less severe limitations on its work force. Both Romanian and Bulgaria are to join the European Union on January 1, 2007.