From the point of view of workers, the situation in the labour markets of Eastern Europe has rarely been so good. In the last few years, unemployment rates in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary have declined steadily. In the Czech Republic, there is virtually no spare capacity left in the labour market. Not only has the ratio of unemployed people to working-age population reached an historical low of 2.2% recently, the country’s unemployment rate is the lowest in the EU. However, Poland and Hungary also have unemployment rates of under 4% and more or less full employment.
The downside of this is that companies operating in Eastern Europe are finding it increasingly difficult to find suitable staff. The shortage of qualified labour is widespread and it is nothing new: many companies have been complaining about the problem for some time in surveys. The exponential rise in the number of vacancies in all three states over the last few years highlights the fact that there is now definitely a significant shortage of manpower. As such, many Eastern European states are experiencing a trend which is familiar in Germany, and in some cases, the situation is even worse than in Germany.
There are many reasons for the shortage of manpower in Eastern Europe and they come from both the supply and demand side. Firstly, the strong economic growth of the last few years has led to a sharp rise in demand for staff in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Secondly, demographic changes and the migration of skilled workers have also depleted the labour pool.
The shortage of skilled labour will only get worse if appropriate countermeasures are not taken. In the long run, the situation threatens to slow down the process of economic convergence in Eastern Europe. Investment could be shelved, thus weakening potential growth. However, the Eastern European states in question − some of which with a populist government − are not taking the necessary measures. On the contrary: sometimes the problems are even getting worse.