Open borders and bottleneck jobs

I have learned via the unlinkable newsfeed site NOS Teletekst that The Netherlands will be opening its borders to East European workers coming from the new EU member states, starting January 1st 2007. Dutch Parliament pushed back the original entry date, May 1st 2006, that was proposed by employers. The big fear is abuse of social security.

In Great Britain, Ireland and Sweden the borders are already open. Portugal, Spain and Finland will follow suit on May 1st while Germany and Austria keep their borders closed for the time being.

In Belgium there was some debate about allowing workers for so-called bottleneck jobs, jobs for which there are hardly any qualified candidates in Belgium.

I believe the figure of unfulfilled job vacancies mentioned was put at around 30,000 and it covers a whole range of activities- like masonry, flooring, cabinet making. East Europeans with the proper qualifications will be allowed entry into the Belgian job market as of June 1st. There is an official list of some 145 bottleneck jobs. For those of you who read Dutch, here is a 2002 analysis of bottleneck jobs in Belgium. And here is the analysis for 2004.

Also noteworthy is the following tidbit from Europe’s Equal Common Database (emphasis mine):

A significant part of the job offers arriving to the unemployment centres are not satisfied. On the other hand, a significant part of the unemployed are not in the labour market. Between 1997 and 2000, integration rates have increased in most of the eight employment centres of the geographical area of intervention of action 1. In 2001, however, there has been a decrease, which is probably related with the growth of unemployment, as well as with the compression of the available offers. The different employment centres have different dynamics along the considered series of years. This is surely related to the centre’s methodology and to the higher or lower economical dynamism of the “concelhos” they cover. Most of the unfulfilled job offers are for the following categories: office clerks, safety and protection workers; unqualified workers of the services, commerce and building; salespersons; building workers; metallurgy workers. However, these are the main occupations of the registered unemployed, which means that the explanation for the non placement of workers is mainly the result of the non coincidence between the profiles defined on the offer side and the profiles of the job seekers. It must also be stressed that the unfulfilled offers in categories such as the building workers concern occupations with some sort of specialisation.

I know I shouldn’t copy & paste things randomly, but I have been wondering about the contradiction between, on the one hand, rather high structural employment in several European countries and, on the other hand, the very existence of bottleneck jobs. I, unfortunately, have no time to delve deeper, so just consider this post as an excuse to debate the issue . There are probably plenty of AFOE readers who know more about this and who don’t need to spend a whole week researching something that, quite frankly, is a bit above my head right now. So, please, be my guest, and explain this conundrum to me and others who may have been wondering about it.

4 thoughts on “Open borders and bottleneck jobs

  1. May I offer the obvious suggestion that jobs are in place A, while the qualified but unemployed are in place B.

  2. “May I offer the obvious suggestion that jobs are in place A, while the qualified but unemployed are in place B.”

    Yeah, obviously. But why don’t the governments in place A, with all their subsidised training programmes, succeed in “qualifying” the unemployed in place A? Many of those job vacancies are not for rocket scientists.

    Anyhow, I also would like to know about bottleneck jobs in other EU countries. Or, why were people hostile to the concept of the Polish plumber. All those arguments about how East Europeans were going to “steal our jobs”, what were they all about? Cheap populism? Or is there more to it?

    And all those kids in the French banlieues, can’t some of them not be trained to become professional, say, masons or architects?

    I know I am generalizing, and I am being naive on purpose, but is this really just a simple matter of mobility?

  3. PS: I do not really know if the French need more masons or architects (they sure need more plumbers). French readers are welcome to elaborate on this.

  4. At least for the building trades and the unqualified service workers, I’d guess that a not insignificant share are working in the grey economy. Whether those workers are locals or internationals is probably a bit of a wash; the employers cannot afford the non-wage costs of hiring people officially, in no small part because their clients resist paying the prices it would costs to hire people completely legally. So people who are registered as unemployed may in fact be working off the books, thus formally explaining part of the apparent mismatch.

    Age may be another significant issue, with people at either end of their working lives finding it more difficult to get places.

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