29th Sep 2023

Ukrainian refugees in EU struggling to get decent jobs

  • More than 5,140,000 displaced Ukrainians have temporary protection or national protection schemes in Europe (Photo: Chris McGrath)
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Displaced Ukrainians still face significant barriers to labour and social integration in their host countries.

A new paper published by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and Eurofound points to language problems, irregular job offers and childcare responsibilities as the main obstacles for them to seek and secure employment.

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It also mentions physical and mental health problems.

Currently, more than 5,140,000 displaced Ukrainians have temporary protection or national protection schemes in Europe. That is: access to housing, medical and social welfare assistance, education, and the labour market.

The EU's response, the temporary protection directive, was activated just two weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine last February and aims to provide the same working conditions as EU citizens.

However, its implementation has varied from country to country, and as the conflict persists, new policy measures will be needed to provide a better response in the medium to long term, the report says.

In Estonia, for example, four out of 10 respondents were in paid employment, while in other countries, such as Germany, the figure was only around 14 percent.

This has a lot to do with language. In the FRA survey, 86 percent of respondents said they spoke little or no German, while in Estonia the population understands some Russian, making communication easier.

But it also has to do with the large number of irregular, temporary and precarious jobs they encounter, or the lack of care services to enable more people to work and be trained for the host labour market.

According to the EU Commission's own research, Ukrainians displaced to Europe tend to be employed in sectors where temporary or irregular work is over-represented, such as construction, tourism or hospitality, which in turn is linked to labour shortages in these sectors.

"Although more employment opportunities can facilitate labour market integration, it is important to avoid not only abusive practices, but also potential insecurity due to the temporary nature of the jobs," the report says.

And so it's not just a question of these people having access to employment, but of it being of good quality and offering decent working conditions, and for three out of 10 Ukrainians in paid employment this is not the case.

According to the FRA report, the norm in their work experience was to work very long hours, to be underpaid or not paid at all, or to have no contract or a contract that did not cover all the hours worked.

In Croatia, attempts have been made to address the lack of protection for these workers in the off-season.

The severe shortage of workers in sectors such as health care, tourism and catering has led the country to launch the permanent seasonal worker programme, which provides income and pension insurance during periods where they do not work.

The profile of displaced Ukrainians is also predominantly female and highly educated.

According to Eurostat, by the end of 2022, almost three quarters of those registered under temporary European protection were women and children.

Because of this imbalance, childcare work falls mainly on women, which in turn makes it difficult for them to access the labour market, learn the local language or adapt their skills to those required in the host country.

"Due to the profile of people displaced from Ukraine, improving access to childcare, especially early childhood education and care, is crucial," notes the report.

As highly educated people, the risk of over qualification, i.e. having more qualifications than required for the job, is higher in the situation of displaced Ukrainians, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) also points out.

Therefore, speeding up the process of recognising qualifications is key, especially for younger people, the Eurofound and FRA paper recommends, both because they have less experience to be hired, and because they want to get a job that matches their skills and education.


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