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EDITORIAL

No future, no hope, no opportunity - the outlook for many in Slovakia's job market.

The truth may not be quite that bad yet, but there are problems that the country's labour market has to face, not all of which can be overcome with the magic wand of government spending and some of which can only be solved through long years of experience.
Unemployment is just under 20%. Bratislava has 7% unemployment, regions like Prešov nearly 30%. The obvious solution - move unemployed people from Prešov to Bratislava. The reality is unfortunately different.
Practices that have been the foundation for successful economies, such as temporary work contracts, are simply failing to catch on, a problem rooted in the lack of mobility in the labour force. High rent and transport costs leave the chances of successful moves from jobless regions to Bratislava low. The lack of deregulation in the housing market has fuelled this employment disaster.

The truth may not be quite that bad yet, but there are problems that the country's labour market has to face, not all of which can be overcome with the magic wand of government spending and some of which can only be solved through long years of experience.

Unemployment is just under 20%. Bratislava has 7% unemployment, regions like Prešov nearly 30%. The obvious solution - move unemployed people from Prešov to Bratislava. The reality is unfortunately different.

Practices that have been the foundation for successful economies, such as temporary work contracts, are simply failing to catch on, a problem rooted in the lack of mobility in the labour force. High rent and transport costs leave the chances of successful moves from jobless regions to Bratislava low. The lack of deregulation in the housing market has fuelled this employment disaster.

The situation is unlikely to change soon in the housing market, as is the regional disparity of unemployment.

School and labour reforms promise to bring much to a workforce that is still both behind the West and its regional neighbours. While employees will have more rights, and corporate policies will move towards those in the European Union, university students can also look forward to standards and opportunities in education that are on a par with the West. Executive search firms say that the youth of Slovakia is among the most willing to learn, and lauded Slovaks' capacity for self-betterment.

This same youth is the most valuable human resource that the country has. But both the corporate sector and the government must tread carefully if they are not to lose the one thing that holds the key to the economic future of a nation - in Slovakia's case, one whose workforce in less than five years could come face to face with the reality of competing with more western workers for jobs.

The decade-long trickle of people across the border has given the country a foretaste of what is to come. The simple choice between not having enough money to pay the rent and leaving for foreign climes where the rewards for hard-earned skills are not just seen on a bank account balance has been enough to see 10,000 of the brightest and best jump ship and contribute to another country's economy.

Doctors, nurses, dentists, health-care workers, still find themselves barely managing to make ends meet. The government holds its hands up and says that the crumbling welfare system prohibits higher payments. But there is only so much dedication one can have to one's job when the monthly wage is only half the national average, and when parliamentary deputies haul in somewhere in the region of 30,000 crowns per month and parliament is often nearly empty at sessions.

Domestic companies have played a guilty role too. The relationship between employer and employee often does not reflect each employee's worth. Wages are still low for the very people who have the language and learning abilities that foreign firms are prepared to reward with higher salaries. The international companies that offer a job to a Slovak realise the importance of the investment they are making - that the person is Slovak now, but potentially international next year. Domestic firms remain reluctant, to accept that a skill is worth investing in, skimping on salaries rather than giving incentives to top employees to stay.

The rot will have to stop. Political changes may be behind an improvement in the 'brain drain', but economics are behind the fact that there is still a significant number of people leaving.

If the cream of the crop is to stay, a collective effort on the part of both government and business will be needed. The consequences for the economy are obvious: no future, no hope, no opportunity.

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