Latvians are lazy and prefer to live off welfare benefits. To stay profitable, businesses must bring in workers from other countries. This is the rhetoric one frequently hears from Latvian politicians and businessmen. Re:Baltica undertook the task of clarifying why, given that the unemployment level is still high, businesses cannot find low-skilled workers. To understand the situation, Re:Baltica went out to work in a fish factory and a supermarket.
The investigative team. Gunita Gailāne (Re:Baltica) worked in the fish factory. Ilze Vēbere (freelance journalist) worked in the supermarket. The coordinator and head journalist for the investigation was Inga Spriņģe (Re:Baltica). Arta Ģiga, Sandijs Semjonovs and Arnis Krauze, all of TV3, created the video material. Financial calculations were done by Anna Zasova (BICEPS) and Peter Folkins. Visual design by Raivis Vilūns.
One in six people of economically active working age cannot find a job in Latvia, yet business owners are still complaining about labour shortages. Apparently Latvians have got used to living off welfare and this is the reason why workers have to be brought in from other countries. Re:Baltica journalists experienced what it’s like to do unskilled labour to get a deeper understanding of what is really missing in Latvia — diligent employees or good jobs?
The largest private employer in Latvia, the supermarket chain Maxima, is constantly looking for workers. The long and intensive work hours are only some of the reasons why people leave their jobs at this employer.
An aching back, cut fingers, and at least eight hours of monotonous work make up an ordinary day at the Gamma-A fish factory. The pay for a packed can is two santimes (2.8 euro cents).
The harder the financial situation, the more people are willing to risk ending up in jail to improve it. A prospect of earning about five thousand or more dollars in one day – that is the payment for delivering a package of cocaine on a plane - outweigh the fear of going behind bars for five or more years.
They think that they’re off to collect some easy money, but come to their senses in a sun bleached hell, where they spend the best years of their lives. Each year more than a hundred drug couriers from the Baltic States are arrested in other countries, but the number doubled during the economic crisis. Peruvian jails contain the most people from the Baltic area. Young people, who on meeting me say — “I try not to think about my home or family, otherwise I’d go crazy”.
In 2007, the Estonian economy was booming with salaries rising overnight and newspapers reporting only good news. At the same time another boom was taking place with dozens of young Estonian men being captured working as “drug mules” in Europe and in South-America.
Welfare minister Ilze Vinkele dropped a bombshell last week. In a momentous announcement, Vinkele upended everything that we have heard from public officials, local governments, and businesses in the past three years.
Latvia is one of the most unequal societies among the 27 EU countries. Social inequality can create a divided society, where the wealthy have more opportunities than the poor, says Joakim Palme, one of the leading experts on inequality, social citizenship, and the Nordic welfare model. Social spending especially on the poor is an investment in the country’s human capital and the nation’s future, Palme says.
Who would borrow 200 lats to repay one thousand or even three after one year? Latvians, however, are making this unbelievable choice ever more often. While many have yet to recover from the crisis, the quick credit business is fully enjoying the economic “pick-up” and earns millions. Usury or predatory lending is punishable with imprisonment, but Latvia, unlike Estonia and Lithuania, has never limited the business’ fantastic interest rates. At least until now--but the situation has already reached its limit.