Access to the European Labour Market
In the European Union, plus Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein, the transition periods for Poles have ended. On 1 May 2011, restrictions on access to the labour market were abolished by last EU countries: Germany, Austria, and Malta. This means that the free movement of persons which the European Union is so proud of is now 100% in place. An exception is the non-EU member, Switzerland, which in 2012 brought back the restrictions for a year, and then again for another year, i.e. at least until the end of May 2014.
EU citizens choosing to work in another EU country can enjoy the same privileges as the locals. A lower minimum wage is out of the question, and it is prohibited to differentiate the amount of benefits or holiday entitlement. All legal employees in the EU are entitled to the following benefits: sickness and maternity, disability, accidents at work and occupational diseases, and pension.
How much is one required to work?
Working hours vary in different European countries – working time is relatively short in France (35 hours per week), and quite long in Ireland (up to 48 hours). On average, it is the same as Poland – 40 hours. Overtime work is usually much better paid (125-200 percent of the normal rate), and persons employed in special conditions are usually entitled to additional privileges. In most countries, paid holiday is 24 days, however one must first earn it – usually by having worked for at least a year.
Profits and losses
In Europe, best salaries are in Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Norway. Several thousand Euros a month in an “ordinary” position (builder or driver) may also be earned in Sweden, the UK, and the Netherlands. Obviously, the highest salaries are offered to specialists – construction engineers, economists, and physicians. The lowest pay is offered in the new EU countries, and in Italy, Greece, and Portugal. In Romania the average salary is less than 500 Euros.
The cost of living is usually proportional to earnings. In Norway or Luxembourg, it would be difficult to survive a month without at least a thousand Euros in your pocket. Frugal workers try living collectively in bachelor pads in the suburbs, commute to work by bicycle, and eat in bars for the poor. Food in Denmark and Norway is twice, and sometimes even several times, as expensive as in Poland.
As a result of the ongoing crisis since 2008, unemployment has risen dramatically in majority European countries. Unfortunately, attitudes to workers from the new EU countries have also become less friendly. Foreign trips for work have thus become more risky. It seems best to look for work remotely (Internet portals, such as EURES) and via trusted persons.
The biggest problems in the labour market are experienced by the Spaniards and the Greeks, and relatively smallest – by Germans, Austrians, and the Dutch. In that difficult environment, professionals – such as doctors, engineers, scientists, and financiers – find it easiest to get work. Job offers for drivers, builders or plumbers, who, until recently, had been very much sought after, have now dwindled. During the tourist season, you can still count on employment in retail, catering, and hotel business, but the competition is becoming fiercer. The days when you could get a job without knowing a word of the local language are now a thing of the past. For more information, see the other articles in this section.
If you have lots of ideas and want to implement them, and, at the same time, you understand how to organize your own work, the road to your own business may be closer than you think. Visit Entrepreneur Envoy, where you will find information, which will help you decide whether self-employment is for you. However, if you already have a business, Enterprise Europe Network will tell you what the EU’s internal market has to offer and how to use it. More information can be found in the article “Self-employment, or how to start your own business abroad”. Self-employment in EU countries was not subject to any transition periods, and Poles have been able to give it a go in international markets since the beginning of Poland’s accession to the EU.