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Bringing Home the Bacon

Young Slovaks seem to have higher work standards than previous generations, and not everybody is happy about that. From Global Voices. 

by Tibor Blazko 11 May 2017

In the past, Slovaks had a popular reputation as people willing to work hard (and then party hard). These days, however, there's an ongoing discussion in Slovakia that is questioning this perception and accusing young people of being unwilling to work, following a recent news report on the subject.


The Slovak economy has been doing rather well in recent years. Unemployment is decreasing — in December 2016 it was at 8.8 percent — and now falls just between the averages for the European Union as a whole and the Eurozone, i.e. the EU countries that had adopted the common currency. The latest Eurostat figures from 2 May show a further decrease of general unemployment to 8.4 percent. As in other EU countries, youth unemployment is much higher, at 18.8 percent.


Factors that have contributed to a lower number of unemployed people include a change in how how they are counted in the first place, which deducted about 0.8 percent, and the fact that more Slovaks are choosing to work abroad. Currently, about 300,000 people or about 12 percent of the Slovak workforce does not work within their country of origin.


The “missing” labor is just partly replenished by the estimated 30,000 foreign workers in the country. Companies in Slovakia have started to feel the lack of people, and in response wages are slowly growing to try to attract workers.


So when news site Aktuality recently published a report alleging that with today's conditions young people exhibit a poor work ethic, it created much turmoil on the Slovak internet, receiving over 600 comments. The story quoted a chief executive describing what frequently happens in one car company: “The younger generation today does not value work very much. Regularly it happens that after the break two or three people are suddenly missing on the assembly line. They simply go away. They do not say anything to anybody, and leave their work gear and access card at the gatehouse.”


This new phenomenon is not only related to the automotive industry, or the more prosperous region of Western Slovakia, according to Aktuality, but seems to be a nationwide trend even in the east, in areas with higher unemployment.


A Slovak worker. Image via Sturla/Wikimedia Commons.


One of the factors could be related to bureaucracy. The state employment agency forces those who are registered as unemployed to accept positions that might not suit them, under threat of losing social and health benefits.


“After they accept jobs they do not want to endure a long time, they violate work rules and want their employer to fire them,” Jana Mesarova from the employment agency Wincott People explained in the article.


An estimated 20 percent of people will leave these jobs within three months, which the Ministry of Labor views as an abuse of the social system. Therefore, officials have promised that they will introduce an amendment to the law to “fix” the problem.


Slovaks reacted with vehemence to the controversy. Some commentators scolded employee behavior. On the other hand, some defended young people, believing that the days of endless working like their parents and grandparents should be over: : “But it's not just about low wages. People born later are the so-called Generation Y which is completely different than the previous one. They want to work less and have more free time …” user cippi wrote.


Many saw the issue as a result of the difficult working conditions, especially in manufacturing: “posledny0: The article constantly said that employees do not appreciate their job. But it never said that employers appreciate employees. It must go hand in hand.”


Local employers made the point of aligning wage expectations with experience and qualifications: “Vidicon: It's like they write in the article. I can't find electricians. And at our place they are often earning over 1,000 [euros] net, and some a lot more. But young people who finish secondary school have nothing to offer, no practice and ask for a gross starting salary of 1,300 euros.”


Some commenters argued that a boycott would not help: “Hetfield_18: You can scold as much as you want, nothing will help you. … If you do not like how much you earn than do something about that, find another job, travel abroad, learn new things.”


Many pointed to the gap between living costs and wages: “DustToDust: …it's not about laziness, but about human dignity if wages do not cover the basic costs of the workforce.”


Others noted the differences in expectations between older and younger generations: “janokosice5: I get that replacing a retired person will be an increasing problem because the retired person works for 400 euros net and young people want 1,000 euros or more.”


Perhaps the higher standards of the younger generations will change conditions, some thought: “milan5321: Finally, a generation that will not tolerate [employers] thumbing their noses at them. Bread-providers must change not only the amount of salaries, but also their attitude toward workers.”


And others wondered if the younger generation was moving away from manual work: “lipovec121: … They all want to work with computers in the office, and physical work is not good for then. For that we hire Serbs, Romanians, Bulgarians, Ukrainians.”

This article by Tibor Blazko originally appeared on the citizen journalism site Global Voices, and is republished under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 3.0 International license.
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