“It is driving me crazy,” said the café bar owner opposite me whose face was slowly turning as red as a lobster. “I found two new waiters and then just didn’t turn up, I’d even arranged accommodation for them,” he flustered. I almost answered that “It is driving me crazy as well, listening to all you café bar owners moan about not being able to find workers,” however I held my tongue and nodded. If I had a Kuna for every time I heard this “we can’t find workers” story I would clear the Croatian national debt.
It is nothing new and sorry to say this but it is going to get much worse. Hotels, cafes, restaurants, agencies, pretty much every company in Dubrovnik that work in the tourism sector is desperate to find employees. Every summer season Dubrovnik “imports” around 2,000 workers from neighbouring countries to fill the hole in the lack of local workers. It is basic mathematics. If 40,000 live in the city, and when you take away all the people who work for the state, are pensioners, are children or have apartments and have no need to work then you are left with only around 5,000 workers are available to service the 2 million guests every year, in other words not enough.
So we scoop up workers from all over the place. You’ll hear accents from Vinkovci, Mostar and Skopje serving drinks on the Stradun. So if someone says that can’t find work in Dubrovnik then they are not being completely honest. Are people from Dubrovnik just lazy?
Just the other day one particular restaurant owner was telling me a horror story. He was looking for a host or hostess to work part time in his restaurant. The job involved basically standing in front of a restaurant and welcoming guests as they arrived or answering any questions they might have. So not the “grab the guests by the sleeve” kind of hostess that plague the Stradun. A few hours in the morning and then again a few hours in the early evening, nothing too strenuous.
He was offering free lunch in the deal and a monthly salary of 8,000 Kunas! Not too bad.
After a week of advertising the job five people applied…yes, only five. But that was just the start. The first one arrived, ten minutes late and blaming the buses, “I just have one question will I have to stand all day or will you give me a chair to rest my legs.” Not the best start to an interview and this man was 23 years-old! This was just the beginning. The next candidate was worried that she would be all day in the sun. The third candidate didn’t like the idea of talking to foreign people. The fourth didn’t want to work two shifts because he had to come from Mokošica by bus. And the last was my absolute favourite, “When will I have time to swim?” So he gave up.
Well he gave up with local people. He gave the same advert to a recruitment agency in Slavonia and instead of taking one host he ended up employing two younger ladies, one worked in the morning and the other in the evening, and paid them 4,000 Kuna each. I have heard a similar story from many other restaurant owners.
Now you could argue, and you would be correct, that if the owner paid their staff enough then they wouldn’t need to find new workers every season. Or even if they employed them on a full-time basis. Of course that makes sense and in fact many employers follow these golden rules today. But the truth is that there are more job vacancies than actual people to fill them in Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik has a specific problem that requires a specific solution.
Recently a report showed that Croatia has the lowest rate of unemployment since 2003. The government were quick to pat themselves on the back and issue statements that their employment policy was working. Of course the truth is slightly different. The biggest problem that Croatia faces today is the mass exodus, the demographic disaster that now means that there are more Croatians living in Germany than in Split. Yes, over 380,000 Croats now call Germany home, or should I say “haus.” And yes this is the very reason why the rate of employment has dropped like a pebble in the Adriatic. In the future not only will we be importing cheap souvenirs from China but also Chinese workers to sell them.