The EU should fear a brain drain heading East and not a flood of cheap labour from new Member States, says a Dutch expert in labour mobility in an exclusive interview with EURACTIV.
“I do not think we need to be afraid that all the Polish workers will suddenly be coming to flood for example the Dutch labour market. I think there will be an even spread of people to where the opportunities are. Remember, there will also be a lot of opportunities in the new Members States, and people will be tempted to go and work there,” says Ripmeester. She also points out that even if the salary for, for example, a German ex-pat working in Prague might be lower than at home, living conditions are also cheaper there and that this could lead to a higher disposable income.
And she adds: “Everybody fears a brain drain going from East to West. This may happen in the beginning, but it is very likely that there will also be a reverse drain East because a lot of multinationals will see an opportunity to explore that market – and they will want to bring staff from their home countries instead of hiring locally,” says Ripmeester, who is currently producing a guide on how to look for jobs in the ten new EU countries.
She does reckon that there will be greater numbers of low skilled than high skilled ones migrating, however she does not expect a huge influx from new countries. “Some will come to look for fortune, maybe a bit more than what we saw with the enlargement with then poor countries such as Spain and Portugal. But I think if you have a truly liberal labour market, then it will regulate itself, we do not need to be over conscious on the issue. I know a good number of Polish people, and none of them want to go West. They say, I like here where I have my job and my family, so why would I leave? We are overreacting a little bit.”
She points to the example of the Poles that have been coming illegally to do the Dutch asparagus harvest for years, a job Dutch people do not want to do: “The only difference will be that they will be legal and not sleeping in their buses, but in beds.”
Ripmeester does accept that there will be a potential problem if migrating workers from the East are given unemployment benefits after having worked only 6 months. That could lead to abuse and, by way of example, the Netherlands has therefore chosen to limit numbers in a trial period, and then fix a permanent policy approach later.