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Stronger labor rights as a decisive factor preventing migration from Ukraine

Stronger labor rights as a decisive factor preventing migration from Ukraine

Ukrainians still desperately seek dignity and decent work outside the country. Violation of basic human rights and large scale corruption fuel the mass migration from Ukraine to seek a better future. Disrespect for labor rights and lack of decent work conditions may result in catastrophic economical consequences for Ukraine.

According to the survey[1] made by the analytical center of the international employment agency “Gremi Personal,”[2] 66,5% of Ukrainian citizens working in Poland intend to obtain a permanent residence card (karta stałego pobytu).

59,8% of Ukrainians are working in the industry, 10,8% – in the service sector (domestic work, care services etc.), 8,5% – in construction. The majority of respondents (68,3%) are fully or rather satisfied by their work in Poland. However, it is worth noting that this indicator is 7% lower than in 2020.

Just like in 2020, Ukrainians primarily choose to leave the country due to economic reasons. Among those, the following are prevalent:

  • unemployment (70.9%),
  • unfavorable economic situation (49%),
  • lack of prospects (23.2%),
  • political instability (22.8%),
  • corruption (14%).

Meanwhile, 38,1% of Ukrainian citizens are not satisfied with their wages. Lack of career advancement is pointed out by 31% of respondents. Besides, according to the latest official statistics (February 2021), wage theft in Ukraine amounts to 3 bln UAH (107 mln USD) total.

Another additional criterion of high migrant assimilation intentions among Ukrainians is the following indicator: 29.4% of Ukrainians consider the possibility of starting a family with a Polish citizen. In addition, 51,7% of Ukrainian migrants in Poland are planning to move their families to Poland or have already done so.

In terms of intentions of further labor migration to European countries (except Poland), 54.1% of Ukrainians are interested in the opportunity to work in other EU countries.

The list of countries that pique labor migrants’ interest remains about the same as last year:

  • Germany – 59,8%,
  • the Chezh Republic – 26,2%,
  • Canada and the USA – 24,5% and 20,2% respectively). 

However, interest in Scandinavian countries has almost doubled (42.5% in 2021 compared to 22% in the past).This trend, even given the pandemic and lockdown, is similar to 2020, when 56% were interested in further labor migration.

Although Poland remains the top destination for Ukrainian labour migrants to the EU, there is mounting evidence that more Ukrainians are choosing other member states as their destination[3]. One of the primary new destinations is Germany, which relaxed its work permit rules in 2020. Germany’s Skilled Immigration Act introduced in 2020 is likely to attract even more Ukrainian workers, not least because of the high levels of income in the country. The average gross salary in Germany now amounts to EUR 3,994 a month[4], compared to EUR 1,000 in Poland[5]. Despite police in Germany reporting an increase in the number of Ukrainian labour migrants arriving in September 2020, it is too early to speak of an exodus of labour migrants to that country. After all, the Skilled Immigration Act came into force only recently, at a time when COVID-19 is still impeding free movement.

According to the Razumkov Center, more than 66 thousand doctors and medical staff left Ukraine in 2020[6]. Those who left Ukraine stated that their wages, for instance in Poland, are 7 times higher than in Ukraine[7]. Life in Poland is not easy for medical staff in Poland for a number of reasons, but they are ready to stay there because they do not see any prospects of a decent life in Ukraine. 

Increasingly so, many Ukrainians apply to the Labor Initiatives legal clinic requesting assistance with documents necessary to leave the country and work in the EU.

In February 2021, long queues were observed at border crossing points such as Shehyni[8], close to the Polish city of Przemyśl, with thousands of Ukrainian nationals, including labour migrants, lacking an adequate space in which to wait or access to basic hygiene facilities.

This desperate image suggests a dramatic reduction in Ukraine’s  workforce. It should also be a cause of concern for employers’ associations. Such a situation may be the momentum for consolidating unions and employers in frames of social dialogue to prevent workers’ outflow.

The given situation unfolds on the backdrop of numerous failures of Ukraine’s government, large-scale corruption scandals and oligarchs remaining in control of strategic spheres of the economy and regions. In reality, it creates almost feudal clientelistic dependencies. The government course of action thus far has neglected the core issues important to any country’s well-being – its human resources and public health.  Incompetence with regards to labor market regulations has been especially apparent, already resulting in systemic mistakes or lack of actions, and potentially leading to catastrophic consequences for the people of Ukraine.

Currently, state intervention is the major component that is missing in the case of labor migration. It is under the jurisdiction of the state to solve the problems with wage theft, disadvantageous working conditions and other factors forcing people to leave Ukraine. Moreover, Ukrainian state officials (in particular, the so-called Office of Simple Solutions and Results chaired by Mickeil Saakashvili) declared[9] the necessity of the new round of labor reform[10]. Expanding short-term contracts usage, at-will employment and removal of union representation indeed are among the main points of the proposed reform.

Labor Initiatives experts deem such policy actions as counterproductive, as stronger labor rights should become the primary means to preserve Ukraine’s workforce. Labor Initiatives’ observations prove that unionized enterprises face lower staff outflow due to higher standards of efficient labor rights examination. Thus, effective protection of freedom of association is a proven mechanism when it comes to preventing Ukrainian citizens from leaving the country.

The existing dramatic situation in the labor market of Ukraine with mass emigration as well as unemployment and informalization demonstrates the importance of a serious and urgent revision of the present short-sighted labor policy in order to promote inclusive development of  Ukraine. The analysis of existing problems within Ukraine’s labor market and reasons for workforce outflow can be a step towards further governmental policies that would put sufficient emphasis on labor rights. Labor is the defining part of life for every person – whether for a worker or a private entrepreneur, domestic worker, at large plants or small cafes. Effective implementation of the right to freedom of association and enterprise along with strong labor rights protections and rule of law are core safeguards to avoid catastrophic consequences for the people of Ukraine, and contribute to Ukraine’s economic development.


[1] Survey was conducted on February 12-19, 2021. Among respondents – 1100 Ukrainains working in 87 Polish localities. Average age of respondents – 33-34 years.

See Also

[2] https://gremi-personal.com.ua/backend/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/puls-trudovoi-migracii.pdf

[3]https://www.pragueprocess.eu/en/migration-observatory/publications/document?id=287&fbclid=IwAR0VGfveB_GAeFt_yHJqu532y9GwyYEtW8KF0mwM7OkpvL0n527VTp69_rM

[4]  Rudnicka, J. (2020). “Statistics on the average income”, Statista, https://de.statista.com/themen/293/durchschnittseinkommen/.

[5] Statistics Poland (2020). Average monthly gross wage and salary in national economy 1950-2017, https://stat.gov.pl/en/topics/labour-market/working-employed-wages-and-salaries-cost-of-labour/average-monthly-gross-wage-and-salary-in-national-economy-1950-2017,2,1.html.

[6] https://razumkov.org.ua/uploads/other/2021-PIDSUMKI-PROGNOZI-UKR-ENG.pdf

[7]https://soundcloud.com/radio-nv/shcho-vdbuvatsya-60-000-lkarv-vikhali-z-ukrani-za-rk-yak-m-za-kordonom

[8]http://tvoemisto.tv/news/shcho_vidbuvaietsya_na_pishomu_perehodi_v_shegynyah_foto_117907.html

[9]https://www.kyivpost.com/article/opinion/op-ed/mikheil-saakashvili-key-steps-to-liberalize-the-labor-market.html

[10]https://www.ukrinform.ru/rubric-economy/3211803-malyj-biznes-saakasvili-govorit-cto-s-trudovogo-kodeksa-uberut-sovetcinu.html