Nationalist party blocks looser requirements for hiring guest workers

Some entrepreneurs want the government to loosen requirements for hiring guest workers due to industry-specific labor shortages. However their proposals have been halted by the National Alliance party, reported LTV's De Facto on January 22.

The situation seems paradoxical as the unemployment level in Latvia is close to 10%.

Most guest workers in Latvia are employed as truckers, because there's a labor shortage in the transport industry. If a company hires a truck driver they have to pay at least the average monthly salary in Latvia, which is €818 before taxes. The average wage in the industry is about €100 lower.

"If we compare the wage of a local driver with that of a guest worker, there's some discrimination. There's better social security for guest workers. It's a paradox," said industry representative Valdis Trēziņš. He said that local businessmen can't afford paying local drivers the same.

In Lithuania the law allows paying the minimum wage both to locals and guest workers.

While Latvian transit companies don't ask to have the same rules, they want the average salary to be calculated in each industry separately as the average wage in Latvia is inflated by highly-paid sectors such as IT.

Latvia's Citizenship and Migration Affairs Office (PMLP) has proposed a regulation that would calculate the average wage (thus also the allowed minimum wage for guest workers) by sector. However the Justice Ministry opposes it for political reasons.

Jānis Iesalnieks, the Parliamentary Secretary of the Justice Ministry, said that it's a 'red line' for his party. 

"We stand for a Latvian Latvia. We are against attracting low-paid guest workers. This project cannot pass, not in this government at least," he said.

Iesalnieks said that if low-paid Latvians had to compete with arriving workers, wages would fall and people would leave. His solution is paying higher wages to local workers.

While the PMLP doesn't think these changes would cause an influx of guest workers.

Dr Arnis Sauka of the Stockholm School of Economics said that the labor shortage needs smart solutions.

"I hope policymakers are taking steps in the direction that needs either smart re-immigration or other instruments. Even if the demographic situation is improved, it does not solve the problem posed by the availability of workers," he said.

More and more guest workers are arriving in Latvia each year. Last year six thousand people-less than a single percent of the people employed in Latvia-were allowed to work in the country. Most of them came from Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia but more exotic destinations were featured as well.

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