Lithuanian farmers struggle to find enough hired hands for the harvesting season, but the law makes it extremely difficult to employ foreign workers from Ukraine.
Vidmantas Girdzijauskas runs a cabbage farm near Kėdainiai, central Lithuania, and says that the harvest this year is particularly good. However, some of it may be left to rot, because the farm cannot hire enough hands to harvest them.
“We have about twenty people working in the field, but we would probably need at least fifty,” Girdzijauskas tells LRT TV.
Finding suitable workers to hire during the harvest season is a struggle, while the people sent to him by the labour exchange are often unmotivated, not physically fit for the task and sometimes quit the job after receiving their first paycheck, he says. So the farmer has to look for workers himself.
There are many Ukrainians living in Kėdainiai District and looking for work. Girdzijauskas says he would like to hire them, but there are too many restrictions. Lithuanian law makes it relatively easy to hire skilled workers from abroad, but the farm needs seasonal unskilled labour.
“We cannot afford to hire illegally, because the law is strict enough, fines are steep,” Girdzijauskas says. “So we make do with people we find or sometimes poach from other farms.”
Anatoly Khomenko came to Lithuania from Ukraine hoping to make some money. However, at the moment he does not have a job. He says he has approached many farms for work, but they could not hire him legally.
“I'd love to work for farmers. I am not afraid of farm work, I know it is hard,” Khomenko tells LRT TV. “We did not come here to drink vodka, we want to work, make money and earn a decent living.”
There are a number of conditions for employers in Lithuania to hire a foreigners, explains Irena Petraitienė, the head of the Kėdainiai chapter of the Labour Exchange. First, the employer needs to offer a full-time work contract for at least six months.
Moreover, the candidate must have at least one-year work experience in the field of his or her qualification.
When it comes to hiring unskilled hands, labour laws require that employers first consider Lithuanian candidates.
“If, for objective reasons, vacancies cannot be filled even after exhausting all possibilities of recruiting employees, only then do we analyse possibilities of bringing in foreigners,” Petraitienė says.
Farm owners are unhappy with the rules. They say that their applications to hire a foreigner are sometimes rejected just because a Lithuanian registers at the labour exchange at the last minute.
Labour shortages threaten to undermine their competitiveness, Lithuanian farmers warn.