EU enlargement may leads to loss of specialist workers

Although the 15 'old' EU Member States have placed temporary restrictions on the free movement of labour from the new Member States that joined the Union in May 2004, there are signs that they are seeking to attract specialist workers from these countries. In Latvia, active recruitment of such people to work in western Europe has occurred in science, the computer industry and, increasingly, medicine. Poor pay and working conditions in Latvia seem to be promoting this 'brain drain'.

Under transitional arrangements agreed by the EU and new Member States in central and eastern Europe which joined the EU in 1 May 2004, the 'old' Member States may limit movements of workers from the new Member States for a period of up to seven years after enlargement. Virtually all the old Member States have introduced such restrictive measures, to differing degrees and for various periods

However, despite these measures, there are signs of attempts to attract specialist workers from the new Member States, including Latvia, to work in the old EU. Latvia’s 'defences' against such developments are weak because, although the quality of its workforce is not lower than in other new Member States, Latvian working and living conditions are seen as the worst. Workers in poorly funded public service sectors - eg healthcare, education and science - are especially sensitive to attractive offers to work in western European countries.

The first signs of active recruitment of Latvian workers by western Member States were seen in the computer industry (LV0403102F) but, probably because wages in Latvia for software programmers and other computing specialists are competitive, a significant 'brain drain' has not occurred. However, in science this drain has already happened. The most significant factor is that scientists who leave Latvia find it hard to return to work there because it is impossible to provide them with the necessary technology and equipment for research. Now the medical sector is being affected as well. Several western European countries have started actively to recruit doctors from the new Member States, promising them generous salaries. There are advertisements in medical magazines inviting doctors to work in the old EU and earn up to eight times more than they do at present.

The Latvian Minister of Health, Rinalds Muciņš, has expressed concern that following EU enlargement doctors and nurses from Latvia, who mostly have good foreign-language skills, will move away and work in other EU countries. Currently the average doctor’s wage in Latvia is EUR 321 a month. This is low even compared with Latvian average wages (EUR 347 in the public sector), without even considering the specific nature of doctors’ jobs and the level of professional skills they require.

There is a great desire among people in Latvia to work as doctors. Medicine is one of the most popular fields of study - the number of those applying to be students continues to exceed the number of places available. Every year vocational schools produce 782 specialists in the health and welfare sphere. In 2002, 4,168 people, of whom 3,579 were women, studied in the health and welfare sphere. The healthcare and social work sector offered 315 adult education programmes attended by 31,000 people. Latvia has 663 people with PhDs in medical science, of whom 339 are women. In 2002, a total of 26 students graduated in medicine from the University of Latvia (Latvijas Universitāte, LU) and 167 from Riga Stradiņš University (Rīgas Stradiņa Universitāte, RSU).

However, working conditions in the Latvian healthcare sector are not competitive with what is on offer in western European countries. Due to the migration of specialists, many hospitals and other medical institutions are experiencing a shortage of medical personnel. The number of doctors per 100,000 people in Latvia is already lower than in the old EU Member States and almost all the new Member States.

The situation is worsened, in the view of some commentators, by the fact that Latvian state institutions have allegedly expressed more interest in creating opportunities to work abroad than in keeping specialists at home, as evinced by the hesitation shown in raising the wages of doctors and scientific workers.

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