Germany, Austria open doors to EU's migrant workers
Germany and Austria became the last two EU members to lift labor market restrictions on workers from Eastern Europe on May 1.
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On May 1, these last two “old” EU member states removed labor market restrictions keeping out workers from “new” members Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovenia.
While recognizing that Germany's aging workforce could benefit from a few fresh pairs of legs, many politicians and trade unionists on this side of the River Oder are looking eastward with mixed feelings, wondering if the new "open door" policy will fuel economic growth or strain the social system. The move is further charged by the growing debate in Europe over the merits of multiculturalism.
The federal labor agency in Berlin, the BfA, estimates it will seen an influx of up to 140,000 immigrants from within the EU throughout the next year, and then less and less every year after. BfA director Heinrich Alt says they will give a much-needed boost to the economy.
“Our country with its aging population and shrinking work force should welcome the new arrivals,” he says.
But a recent survey indicated that up to 40 percent of German workers feared that their wages would be undercut. Hans-Werner Sinn, president of the Ifo Institute for Economic research at the University of Munich, recently told reporters that "there will be millions coming within the next decade."
Trade unions warn that unemployed Germans will find it even harder to get jobs, and politicians are afraid the strained welfare system might not be able to bear any additional burden. Indeed, a considerable number of Poles are already illegally in Germany as cleaners, nannies, and builders.