Operation Frics, episode #3 - Finding employees

Latvian Television's Aizliegtais paņēmiens (Forbidden methods) show has unveiled another episode about the reality of running a small business in Latvia. Here's LSM's recap of the third episode, broadcast on the evening of November 16 that dealt with finding employees - a feat not as simple as you'd think, despite Latvia's official unemployment rate of around 9%.

In the course of an investigative experiment journalists opened Frics, a french fries restaurant in the fashionable Jūrmala resort and chronicled how they fared by making numerous secret recordings.

They weren't trying to make some hard-earned cash, but rather wanted to understand, see and feel what's it like for a small business to face the bureaucracy and possible corruption behind the scenes in Latvia. 

In the episode

Journalists tried looking for employees both in Jūrmala, and in the Latgale region where the unemployment rate is at about 20%. They couldn't find many who were willing to work, and the ones they did find disappeared before signing a contract. The undercover journalists were offering merely the minimum wage, so it's not a surprise that few were interested.

In the end, they found a strapping young lad through the State Employment Agency. He was willing to work through the summer months, and the state sponsored half of his wage - though most of the shifts had to be covered by the journalists themselves.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the episode was pretty mundane: it's hard finding reliable employees, and very much so if you can only afford to paying very little in a region where there's not excessive unemployment.

Besides, the episode also looked into the wages of several giant employers in Latvia - the Maxima retail chain, as well as the McDonalds, Kebabs Fix and Hesburger eateries, - finding out that at Maxima and Kebabs Fix the pay for unskilled work is close to the minimum monthly wage of €360. Not so at McDonalds, while Hesburger even offers pecuniary incentives for staying longer at the company.

In the studio

Former Economics Minister, now head of the Certus economic foundation, Vjačeslavs Dombrovskis dispensed some wisdom about the disparities between the regions' employment tendencies, saying that a company that offers wages below the average will inevitably face problems finding employees.

People don't want to move to another region for work, he said, because they want to remain with their families and if they move elsewhere, they'd be better off flying to England or Ireland, which are popular destinations for Latvian emigrants.

Meanwhile Inese Kalvāne, head of the State Employment Agency, contested that there are people who would choose to move but without leaving the country, as it's mostly young people who choose to move elsewhere.

She said that people with families would find it very difficult combining family life with employment if the wage is a meager €360 a month, and that employers just starting out could plan shifts so that they could employ students, who are always keen on earning an extra euro or two. 

The five stories are airing once a week every Monday, starting November 2 on Latvian Television 1. LSM offers recaps from the episodes that might appeal to an international audience. The next episode will chronicle the company dealing with watchdog institutions, while the last episode will deal with taxes.

Watch the show online - look for 'Aizliegtais paņēmiens' - here.

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