Russia’s war on Ukraine has had a profound impact on the Polish job market as over 100k Ukrainian women join workforce
Poland has been the primary destination for refugees, with almost 3.2 million people crossing its border from Ukraine since the start of the war.
Estimates indicate that between 1.5 and 2 million remain in Poland and 120,000 have found employment, mainly in the services sector and seasonal work.
The majority of the refugees coming to Poland, around 75 percent, are women. Almost half are working in unskilled labour, with a further 18 percent doing office or other specialist work, 14 percent in industrial or craft production, 11 percent in sales and services, and another 10 percent working as machine operators and assemblers.
“The first change we notice is a change in the gender structure of potential employees from Ukraine. Before the war, 70 percent were men who found employment mainly in the construction, logistics and industry sectors. Currently, they are mostly women who will not easily fill the vacancies that arose in these industries after the departure of Ukrainian men,” says Jolanta Szydłowska, President of the Management Board of the Gdańsk Foundation for Management Development.
“The key thing is one of balance, there is an outflow of men and inflow of women. Construction, logistics - warehouse and IT - male dominated - will be losing people. Hospitality, the care sector and the agricultural sector will be gaining workers,” Michael Dembicki, head of the British-Polish Chamber of Commerce (BPCC), says.
Olena Zlahodniuk came to Poland in February, one of over 3 million Ukrainians to flee their war-torn country. An accountant by profession making the equivalent of about $270 a month in Ukraine, finding comparable work has been difficult.
Her daughter Mariana who works in marketing and has been based in the Polish capital since 2012, said: “Inflation, currency depreciation and the rest mean that it would buy even less than it did before the war started,”
Olena added: “Some jobs are extremely menial and pay very little. We heard of one farm paying PLN 5 (EUR 1.10) an hour to pick mushrooms.”
And not everyone wants or is made to do menial jobs, especially after 25 years in a particular specialised profession.
Nicole Petters, a manager at Warsaw-based Her Impact, the largest recruitment platform for women in Europe, says this is a common trend since the start of May, in particular. “The flow of women going back to Ukraine accelerated after May 9, when people had expected Russia to declare victory in Ukraine,” she says.
“There is a great nostalgia and patriotic feeling that takes many people back. This added to the fact that many jobs in Poland are below the newcomers’ levels of qualifications.
“We are doing everything we can to help women find a good job that is in line with their previous experience, but not everyone needs that kind of people. The situation is now very fluid.”
The labour market in Poland is able to absorb approx. 0.5 million employees within 6 months and another 200,000 later, Krzysztof Inglot, founder of Poland's largest recruitment firm, Personnel Service, says.
Kamil Sobolewski, chief economist for Employers of Poland, Poland’s largest employers’ organisation, told Rzeczpospolita that the true number working could be twice as high as the official figure.
“Ukrainian women will find a job in Poland, if they want one. They can work in food processing, in shops, as housekeepers or cleaners. It will be easiest for them to find a job in lower-level positions, especially when they do not speak Polish, but the demand for specialists is also high in our country. Therefore, people with higher competences and using the Polish language will also find a place for themselves,” Inglot says.
Looking in detail at the GUS (Central Statistical Office) statistics it is possible to indicate at least a dozen positions that could be taken by women from Ukraine: 7,200 nurses, 9,200 secretaries, 7,900 office service employees, 4,100. cooks, 2,100 waitresses, 2,200 hairdressers, 24,000 sales employees, 1,400 cashiers, 9,900 housekeepers and cleaners.
As part of a law introduced in March to support Ukrainian refugees, the government made it easier for them to join the labour market by abolishing the previously required permits and allowing employers to simply inform the Labour Office about hiring a Ukrainian refugee within 14 days.
Poland has one of the lowest unemployment levels in the European Union. According to Eurostat, in February it was 3 percent, far lower than the 6.2 percent EU average.
“The situation is slightly different in the case of wages. We are afraid that the Ukrainians are reducing the pace of wage growth and it must be said that these are justified concerns,” Inglot says.
“We should remember, however, that wages are growing fast in Poland anyway. In February this year wages increased by 11.7 percent, which is above economists' forecasts,” he adds.
25-year old Iryna Vadan, a Ukrainian translator from a small town in southern Ukraine near the Russian-controlled part of the country, recently - with the help of Her Impact - found a job with a company called Talkersi as an interpreter and translator.
Iryna, who speaks perfect English and German, says it took about a month to find a job. “Her Impact have been great,” she says. “I felt totally cared for, which is the most important.”
Iryna’s mother Oksana came to Poland on March 5 after a two-day drive. She is now volunteering to help other Ukrainian refugees in Poland and learning Polish. “We are a very determined people,” Iryna adds.