The farm workers’ migration: causes and forecasted effects.
Polish agricultural market is dominated by migrants from east, in the majority Ukrainians. In 2018 around 500,000 of seasonal workers from outside of EU worked on Polish farms. The Poles are no longer interested in working in the agricultural sector as a field worker in their country. It is caused by the opening of the European markets to Polish workers around 2004. Since then, they flood western markets looking for a seasonal job. In both cases the scheme is analogical and very simple: the salary, which is offered in agriculture is no longer attractive to local workers, they choose to migrate to a better-developed country for seasonal work and are replaced by workers from abroad, for whom it is an opportunity to earn three times more money than they ever would in the country of their origin.
The interesting remark about seasonal migrants perception in the societies, which is also applicable in the Polish context, was made by The Economist . The seasonal migrants are not seen as jeopardizing, even by those politicians, who are adherents of anti-immigration law. This might be because of their actual and defined utility to the society (no hands to do the farm work result in significant loss in the agricultural sector), or because of the fact, that – at least in theory- they leave for winter. The other possible explanation is their low visibility caused by the localization of the farms. Another point is that rising interest in coming to Poland for seasonal work enables particular branches of the agricultural sector to increase planting and – profit. Hiring migrants makes the business more profitable also because of the fact that they are commonly underpaid comparing to local workers.
Same time, there are experts’ opinions, that an opportunity to hire low-payed migrants inhibits the technological development of agriculture because it is possible to get similar results without long-term investment in technology, covering all the agricultural production processes with people. There are some tasks, which are awkward to mechanize, such as picking up fruits (e.g. berries and strawberries), which are easy to damage. Nevertheless, research aimed to develop efficient machines to pick up such fruits are run.
On the other hand, from the point of view of migrant interest, total mechanization would make them unable to earn better money. The important question to ask is the salary rate – shouldn’t it be equal for locals and seasonal workers from less developed countries? Such a solution might be argued not only because of migrants’ interest but also for the interest of the locals. A possibility to hire cheap labor from developing countries makes the farm owners less likely to offer a job to locals, who are more demanding and leads to undercutting natives from the particular sector. New Zeland came out with legal solutions to lure locals to the agricultural sector. The “recognized
seasonal employer” programme began in 2007, when the number of migrant workers has grown from 5,000 to 11,000 per season. Almost all of the hired workers were men from the Pacific islands. The farmers are obliged to show that they have tried to hire locals, pay migrants an equal or higher wage, house the migrants and guarantee them a certain amount of work. Where the work is finished, they are obliged to care for the workers’ departure or pay for their removal. Did it cause the higher amount of local people in the agriculture sector? Not really. What it certainly did is that it brought the more strict control over migrants, reining their freedom of movement. The same time, the higher wages for migrants make it unclear whether the solution should be called supportive for migrants or not.
To sum up, the migrant workers’ boom requires setting precise regulations in the field of working permission, salary system, permission for settlement, to mention only a few. The country, which faces a seasonal migration boom, needs to be up to the challenge of respecting the rights of the migrants, not letting down its citizens same time. I’m looking forward to seeing how Poland would meet this challenge, which seems to be more and more urgent, because of the growing flood of migrants from the east.