The growing labour shortage bears the hallmarks of a crisis, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said on April 4.
While keen to boast of the health of the economy under his continued watch, Fico was forced to admit that the government needs to get to grips with the “phenomenon”. The difficulties of finding qualified workers, and consequent growing cost of labour, has many across the Visegrad region worried that investment will start to suffer, hitting longer term economic growth.
The situation is cruelly ironic for Slovakia. The country has spent years struggling to lower unemployment, which has been its Achilles heel and stood at over 13% in 2013.
While joblessness has enjoyed a rapid drop over the past couple of years, falling to 8.39% in February, the rate remains far above its regional peers. However, the shortage of labour is expected to stem large falls in unemployment this year.
"If previously it was the unemployment rate that had crisis dimensions, nowadays it's the ability to find employees,” Fico admitted in comments at a conference, according to TASR. “This isn't where savings should be made, we need to square up to it," he added.
The government is working on a package of measures, the PM said, although he offered few details. Media reports earlier in the day said Bratislava hopes to see unemployment drop to 7% this year, with added momentum to come from new measures under a ‘National Reform Programme’.
Regional disparities between the east and west of the country is seen as a major cause of the structural unemployment problem. The reform plan also seeks to deal with discriminatory issues, and will offer to tools to help for the Roma minority enter the workforce.
The shortage of labour could be addressed by increasing worker mobility, supporting rental housing and by introducing changes in the education sector, Fico said. The government has, in the meantime, sought to ease the entry of workers from non-EU neighbourhood states such as Ukraine and Serbia, even whilst it bitterly opposes taking in any migrants from Asia or Africa.
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