by Natasha Simjanovska, International Labour Organization
Labour shortage emerges as an increasingly pressing and challenging issue that impacts businesses, workers, and the overall economy. To gain a comprehensive understanding of its complexity, we must delve into the viewpoints of two essential stakeholders: employers and trade unions, shedding light on the difficulties they face and exploring potential solutions. Additionally, we emphasize the importance of collaboration between them in addressing this critical matter.
Meeting the demands of the labour market
The employers across various industries are struggling with labour shortages that are impacting their ability to meet production demands, maintain business growth, and secure sustainable development. One of the prominent voices in the North Macedonia’s business sphere is the Organization of Employers of Macedonia (ORM), which actively addresses this issue and proposes strategies to mitigate the challenges faced by its membership.
According to ORM, almost every industry in North Macedonia is struggling with a shortage of workers, with construction, processing and services sectors being particularly affected. Migration and demographic change represent a relevant part of the picture:“There is a combination of factors contributing to this situation, including the declining birth rate, the aging population and the outward migration of young people and entire families”, stated ORM.
In certain industries, employers are actively searching for workers, irrespective of their educational background, offering opportunities for reskilling, upskilling, and training. Regrettably, there is a lack of candidates showing interest in the available opportunities. Meanwhile, the ongoing Government subsidies to foreign investors in the technological industrial development zones, in form of exemption from social security contributions, tax, customs and utilities, as well as covering partial costs for construction of the production plants, exacerbate the situation, resulting in an uneven playing field for domestic companies trying to attract workers.
“Solving the problem of labour shortages is a complex, long-term endeavour that requires structural changes in the economy. This involves stimulating companies to provide higher wages by investing in higher value-added activities and improving the educational system to produce a professional workforce. ORM has advocated for the introduction of quality professional orientation in elementary schools, highlighting the necessity for cooperation between employers and educational institutions.”, concludes ORM.
To maintain healthy wage growth without causing inflation, ORM suggests focusing on productivity enhancement through automation, digitalization, and technological advancement.
Changing demographics in some regions have led to a reduced labour pool, affecting industries that rely heavily on local labour. Hence, ORM has initiated the discussions on the potential need for liberalization of employment of foreigners, as one solution to the labour shortage issue.
Advocating for workers’ rights
Trade unions are instrumental in advocating for the rights and welfare of workers. From the viewpoint of the Federation of Trade Unions of Macedonia (SSM), labour shortages raise concerns about job security for workers. They fear that employers may exploit the situation to curtail workers’ rights or lower wages. In addition to this, the employees in companies facing labour shortages may be subject to heavier workloads.
SSM advocates for the promotion of social dialogue and active participation of all stakeholders, emphasizing that these are essential democratic and sustainable approaches to economic and social development. “SSM will continue to advocate for fair wages and collective bargaining, even in the face of labour shortages, to ensure that workers are not exploited.”
Seeking Synergy: Joint efforts to tackling the labour shortages in North Macedonia
While the employers and trade unions may hold different positions on labour shortage, there are areas of common ground where collaboration can benefit both parties. Employers and trade unions can jointly lobby the Government for policies that address labour shortages, such as immigration reforms or incentives for industries facing significant shortages. Bridging this gap will be crucial in navigating the complex landscape of labour shortages in North Macedonia, fostering decent wages, workplace safety standards, ensuring the well-being of workers and thus reducing the turnover and shortages.
Encouraging a public dialogue can help in crafting well-informed, comprehensive policies that not only meet labour market demands, but also promote inclusive and fair practices. It would be an essential step towards creating a sustainable and harmonious balance between the demands of the labour market and the rights and opportunities of both domestic and migrant workers.