Thursday, 9 September 2010

Geographical Labour Flexibility in Poland

Thanks to Michael Dembinski of W-wa Jeziorki for his comment on the last post:

"Unemployment in the regions where the investment is coming (near Poznan and Katowice) is in low single digits. Like in other SEZs [Special Economc Zones], workers will probably be bused in from a two-hour travel time radius.

Poland's unemployment picture is the mirror of the UK's - extremely low urban joblessness with stratospheric (25%-35%) rural jobless. Did you know that 49% of Poland's unemployed (and some 60% of long-term unemployed) are ze wsi? Not small town, but wieś. How do you mop that up,other then let time and foreign investors' minibuses do their bit?" (Steve - In case its not obvious, Wsi and Wies are rural villages and communities - although it also means the countryside more generally.)

He makes an important point. Although there is urban drift, Polish people tend to stick to their home town or village. A recent survey showed that people who move to the city and take up full time employment normally still return to the place they come from. If you have worked with Polish people, there is a strong likelihood that what they are doing for the weekend, will be "going home". Since, especially on the eastern half of Poland, their are few train lines serving rural areas, commuting has to be done by road, which can take hours and hours. For the rural unemployed, a reliable car is often not available or affordable.

However, I have to disagree with Michael about reliance on foreign investor's minibuses. Despite the above, there is a surprisingly high level of commuting from rural areas to major towns and employment centres. Coaches and minibuses pour into Warsaw every morning from places that are hours away. It used to take me at least an hour and a half driving between Warsaw and Kielce ( a large town) out of the commuting period or travelling in the opposite direction. Even so, early every morning there are a queue of mini-buses outside Kielce railway station for Warsaw workers - it is cheaper than the train. Arriving at the station were feeder minibuses from villages off the main road routes. Another example: I once took a bus from a village outside Rzeszów (Rshe-shoov - a large town in the South-East) to Warsaw - some 3 to 4 hours journey time, which was packed with people on the late worker's shift. (The next bus was normally quieter, I was told, but I had an early, Monday morning meeting - bad idea.)

This willingness of people to spend inordinate amounts of time travelling to get to work, is, for me, an amazing indicator of Polish determination to work. It is therefore, another indicator of the inevitability of Polish economic success. (The result of a bad/good unemployment benefit system?)

There is more... Scattered in and around Warsaw there are large numbers of workers' hostels. Some are urban buildings, but where I live there are large number of rural places offering accommodation used by workers. The workers on this estate come from villages around Rzeszów and live here for two weeks in an 'Agro-tourism' centre, having every second Monday off so that they can go home for the weekend. (Agro-tourism has nothing to do with agriculture, by the way.) Whilst I know there are workers' hostels in England, the number here seems much larger. All in all, the whole system is in place to cater for people moving from the countryside to large towns for work.

As an aside, and I don't want to question the validity the general principle of Michaels' statement about rural unemployment, Poland's largest village (wies) has a population of 7,000, is indistinguishable from Warsaw in terms of urban spread and is within Warsaw's internal tram and bus service. One of the problems of driving long distances in Poland is that many of the main roads go through village after village, where the roads narrow and twist and there is the general need to go slowly. Although there are many truly rural communities away from the main access routes, I wonder how much the statistics of unemployment cover communities with real difficulties in getting transport to work even if people have the willingness to spend their time doing so. I don't want to be convinced by media reporting of the 'useless' unemployed in England, but to the extent it is real, is it this willingness that makes the fundamental difference?

As a final aside, one of the aims of the Communist system - everyone has a job - was to provide employment in or close to rural areas. Most of this inefficiency failed when capitalism arrived. If they had forcibly removed everyone to urban areas, as the hard hearted manipulators we are taught they were, things might be easier today.

1 comment:

Michael Dembinski said...

"Foreign investors' minibuses' is of course metaphorical. I have travelled around Poland a fair bit and have been to see (bits of) the SEZs that cover Wałbrzych, Niepołomnice, Katowice, Łodź and Zielona Góra. Suffice to say in each, I met investors who said they had to bus in workers from a long way from the actual factories.

Broadband for the wieś is one solution; as in Scottish Highlands, where disabled people in remote rural communities were provided with high-speed internet and thereby able to become part of a dispersed call centre dealing with customer enquiries.

Long term, of course, most young people will leave the wieś and move to the towns in search of education and work. As this is happening, so increasing numbers of richer urban pensioners will move themselves and their capital into the more agreeable parts of rural Poland.