Labour Market in Belarus: the Demand for Workers is Increasing
A recently published report by the HeadHunter recruiting agency and TUT.by portal shows that the labour market in Belarus is starting to recover. Increasing demand for skilled wokers in the entire country has stopped the stream of labour emigration of Belarusians to Russia and the West.
However, the recovering labour market has not cured itself of its old illnesses. The state-run economy uses its financial and human resources inadequately and limits potential growth. While building industry demands people, many manufacturers need to fire some.
Employment services in Belarus work so inefficiently that unemployed people do not even bother applying to them when searching for work. The average unemployment benefit in Belarus is 10 times lower than in neighbouring Poland – with Belarus offering only €15 a month.
The Belarusian economy requires modernisation in its legislation and the create of a linkage for wage growth and production growth. According to the Ministry of Economy in 2013 the gap between the growth in productivity of labour and wages was about 16.4 per cent.
The authorities should pay particular attention to the state's employment services and vocational training institutions. The experience and assistance of the European Union would greatly relieve the long overdue, painful economic reforms that Belarus has yet to undertake.
Labour Market Recovery
According to the study by the HeadHunter Recruiting Agency and TUT.by portal, the number of vacancies in Belarus grew by 40% in 2013. The demand for workers is still growing and not only in Minsk, but also at the regional level. This indicates that the labour market is beginning to recover after years of crisis.
The data shows that most Belarusian companies need skilled workers in sales and employees in the branches of transport, logistics or finance. Belarus is still experiencing a boom in programming, and as a result many IT companies are still looking for new employees. Not only programmers but also other staff: administrators, accountants and copywriters.
Companies have unexpectedly had a large demand for workers with experience of one year or less. Typically, these workers would be willing to work for wages less than $500, a figure that is attractive to potential employers.
The rapid growth of salaries, with the huge gap between it and the growth in productivity, made many Belarusians reconsider their plans to leave Belarus for working in neighbouring countries. While in 2011-2012 many construction workers, doctors and managers left to work in Russia, today many people are able to stay and find comparable work for a reasonable wage.
The weak competitiveness of the Belarusian labour market contributes to this. According to TUT.by, at any given time in Minsk two people are competing for one position, while in Moscow, the destination point for many Belarusians, has around three people applying for each opening.
Skewed Labour Market
Although the labour market is starting to recover from the financial crisis of 2011, it contains the same diseases it had before the crisis. The state-run economy, with its inadequate assignment of the financial and labour resources across sectors, dissuades employees from using their full potential. It limits their professional growth and as a consequence, the growth of the manufacturing and production in the country.
While many sectors of the economy require more workers, some of them are facing a rather different problem, as they need to lay off many of their employees to improve competitiveness. For one thing, Belarus needs more construction workers, as many of them have moved to Russia where work was readily available and wages were higher.
On the other hand, state-run companies do not need nearly the number of administrators that they currently possess, especially when it comes to redudant positions such as those that are part of the ideological staff.
Work in Belarus remains a social tool whose purpose is to maximise employment and preserve the ideology of equality between all people. A kindergarten teacher, who has a great amount of responsibility on their shoulders and works hard, earns about the same as an electrician who works a few hours a day, changing light bulbs and doing simple routine repairs.
The Gini coefficient in Belarus, the index of the inequality of income distribution in society, remains better than in all its neighbouring countries and approaches its Scandinavian counterparts.
Many Belarusians appreciate the domestic economic model, but it is difficult to question the fact that, overall, the economy remains very inefficient.
Belarusians who work for government-run enterprises remain immobile and unmotivated, though private businesses tend to do better. Which is the reason why young people primarily look for jobs in the private sector.
Although the official unemployment rate hovers at around 1%, many people remain reluctant to appeal to state-run employment services. These institutions require lengthy registration and carrying out public work, akin to community service, by the unemployed.
The Employment Service of Belarus offers meagre financial benefits, sitting at €10-20, and are generally of little help to the unemployed. Consider, for example, that the average unemployment benefit in Poland is about €150.
The matter is compounded by the fact that many Belarusian enterprises require restructuring, and employment services remain unprepared for a large influx of the unemployed. This is to say nothing of the fact that vocational training institutions are in dire need of modernisation themselves.
Belarus` demographic situation does not differ from situations in other European countries. The population is ageing and a labour force shortages are on the rise. The reduced number of available labourers among the entire population will force the Belarusian authorities to reconsider their approach to the labour market.
How to Improve the Labour Market
Many economists seem to be tired of saying that Belarus needs structural reforms. However, Belarusian authorities keep trying to reinvent the wheel, hoping to save the current economic model, which can eventually drive Belarus into a deep crisis.
To avoid this fate, the Belarusian authorities should reform the Belarusian economy. That is not to buy a new machine for individual enterprises scheme, but a fundamental change of the rules of the Belarusian economy.
The authorities have to tie wage increases to production growth, based on a market mechanism, and to create favourable conditions for business development. Most of the companies posting losses in Belarus, like the Barysau meat processing plant or Vityas TV set plant, should be privatised.
In the event of the liberalisation of the labour market, the authorities should improve the quality and capacity of vocational training institutions and the state-run employment services. These organs institutions should be prepared for an influx of unemployed Belarusians eager to work. They should be able to propose something substantial to Belarusian citizens and be able to teach, retrain and improve their skill sets.
The European Union could play a large role in the modernisation of the labour market. Countries, such as Poland and Lithuania, have already gone through many of the difficult struggles that Belarus faces today.
The new Europe could transmit its knowledge to its neighbour and help it initiate and carry out these reforms. While the West and Belarus are still in the preparatory stages for a new dialogue, Brussels could define its agenda and priorities with Minsk. The labour market can be one of them.
Pavel Latushka: The Liberal Face of the Belarusian Regime
Earlier this month Belarusian ambassador to Paris Pavel Latushka harshly criticised Belarusian producers for their alleged low reliability and problems with selling their goods abroad on a state TV channel. Latushka with his sophisticated background and behaviour always remained flamboyant and never quit fit into the standard image of a Belarusian official.
He has been steadily rising in the state hierarchy and represents a new generation of Belarusian higher officials. Whether his ascendancy results from support at the very top or is a matter of luck does not really matter. Latushka can become the new face of the current regime.
He can also be the regime insider who ultimately negotiates with the opposition on political transition. Lukashenka's opponents cautiously welcomed his rise, yet the man has so far demonstrated unquestionable loyalty to the Belarusian leadership.
No Soviet Background
Pavel Latushka belongs to the younger cohort of Belarusian higher officials whose adolescent life was spent in an independent Belarus. He was born in 1973 in Minsk and, as he himself admits, his father influenced him in his commitment to the Belarusian language. That means more in Belarus than elsewhere, since Belarusian nationalism is extremely language-focused.
He started his studies at the most “nationalist” history department in the country at Belarus State University (BSU) at the time of Belarus' national revival in the early 1990s. However, he then switched to the BSU Law Department, a move that can be seen as less romantic yet more promising for his career, finally graduating in 1995. The following year, he also got a degree from Minsk State Linguistic University and is known to have a good command of both English and Polish.
In 1995, Latushka immediately started to work at the Foreign Ministry of the newly independent nation. The ministry then needed qualified people with foreign language skills.
Coal Deals and Landlords
In 1996-2000, he worked at the Belarusian consulate in Polish Białystok, then as a Foreign Ministry's press secretary, and later in 2002-2008 he became the Belarusian ambassador to Warsaw. Those were not easy years, as Minsk and Warsaw clashed regularly on their own and as part of bigger disputes between Belarus and the EU. Latushka was time and again recalled to Minsk for consultations with the leadership.
Still, he managed to build up a broad and diverse array contacts in Warsaw. According to some rumours, Latushka strongly supported the investment plans of Jan Kulczyk, who is also known as Poland's richest man. Kulczyk reportedly wanted to construct coal-consuming power stations in Belarus, supply them with Polish coal and export power back into Poland. The gist of the plan was to structure the whole operation to avoid of the EU's strict environmental regulations on carbon dioxide.
Among the other contacts of Latushka were Radziwiłł family – the former major magnate family of Belarus, whose property was expropriated after the reunification of Belarus within a socialist republic in 1939. In his 2009 interview to Zviazda daily, Latushka discussed the necessity to establish or activate – in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry – contacts with other magnate families whose “roots are linked to Belarus.”
Latushka became a major figure in Belarusian relations with Poland. Furthermore, he took a friendly line with Warsaw, a kind of diplomacy that sometimes bordered on outright lobbying. Later on, he demonstrated his friendly stance on the Polish vision of such important issues to Warsaw as the Katyn massacre. As Culture Minister he attended in June 2010 an official ceremony dedicated to Katyn in Minsk.
After viewing Andrzej Wajda's famous film on these historical events at the ceremony, Latushka commented to Radio Libery: “I could not sit in a car, I needed to walk and breathe fresh air. Indeed, those were huge – impossible to overestimate – emotional impressions. I never have been to Katyn, yet I have understood the pain.”
In 2009-2012, Latushka became the youngest member of the cabinet as Minister of Culture. Liberal Nationalist weekly Nasha Niva welcomed Latushka as “the first Belarusian-speaking minister”. He actively attended all possible cultural events, going as far as to attend the crypto-nationalist Belarusian Poetry Festival in a village near Maladzechna, and reciting Belarusian classics at public events.
This all stands out as quite a new approach for a higher official in Belarus. Of course, his work has caused a number controversies as well. As a new minister, he boasted to launch a new and more comprehensive reconstruction program for old churches and castles, yet some experts like Anatol' Astapovich expressed criticism concerning the quality of the programme. The ministry – honourably – publicly admitted some faults.
Latushka even challenged what is considered perhaps the most hard line element of the Belarusian regime – its one time chief ideologist Colonel Uladzimir Zamiatalin – over the failure of the film “The Dniapro Line” produced under Zamiatalin's supervision and presented as a patriotic movie. European Radio for Belarus suggested that it was Latushka who ousted Zamiatalin from his last major position – the chief of national Cinema Studio “Belarusfilm”.
The new culture minister displayed a liberal approach on several other occasions as well. After the introduction of ban on public performance by some bands, the minister successfully defended in October 2012 one of them, the well-known group “Palac”. The concert was dedicated to the band's 20th anniversary in Minsk was able to take place after the removal of the initial ban on the event.
All in all, Latushka is known for his consequent support of the Belarusian language – an extremely politicised and sensitive issue. He has publicly spoken in his native tongue for years, and even joined the Belarusian Language Society. On the other hand, Latushka rejects strong state-sponsored measures to return Belarusian to public and state usage. “When we start to greet one another in Belarusian, when we start speaking to friends in Belarusian, then the use of Belarusian in society will increase.”
Latushka as Symbol
In November 2012, Latushka became the Belarusian ambassador to France. Lukashenka apparently made a gesture with this appointment. The sophisticated Latushka succeeded an ambassador who was formerly a tank driver, General Lieutnant Alyaksandr Paulouski. The contrast could not be greater. The new ambassador in his intellectual outlook resembles Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makey. Latushka has admitted to loving Vienna and French novels, he reads Schiller, Vasil Bykau and goes to the theatre regularly.
Latushka symbolises the new face of the Belarusian regime which is willing to deal with partners in the EU and avoid unnecessary tensions if no vital interests of the regime are concerned. His statements and actions are illustrious evidence that the “Soviet heritage” and Russian cultural heritage are increasingly less visible and apparent in Belarusian state policies.
At the same time, the capability of current ruling elites to rejuvenate their strength remains uncertain. The regime has gotten rid of any truly strict ideology and thinks mainly about its own survival. Therefore such hard liners as Zamyatalin, Kryshtapovich, Yancheuski have become marginalised. But young cadres remain scarce at the higher levels of state hierarchy. Thus, only two ministers and one deputy minister are younger than 45. The age of the other two ministers and a deputy minister is between 45 and 50.
The current leadership relies on grey mass of ordinary bureaucrats who smoothly function under normal conditions yet who can have problems with reforms or any potential political or economic crisis. It is only in these conditions, it seems, that other people will come on stage to replace them. Among them, without a doubt, will be Latushka. There are only doubts on whose side he will then be.