German ingenuity . . . in Poland

A German construction worker

TEXT OF STORY

Doug Krizner: The European Union is first and foremost an economic union. One of its foundations is the free movement of labor. Workers from poorer countries have gone to wealthier ones.

Two million Poles have moved to the U.K. and Ireland for better-paying jobs. That's left Poland with a labor shortage. Now, some central Europeans are headed east to cash in. Brett Neely reports.


Brett Neely: It's a cold Monday morning at a construction site in Brzeg, a small city in southwestern Poland. These workers are building a new supermarket. But they're speaking German, not Polish.

Sigor Jens (interpreter): Things are really happening here.

Construction foreman Sigor Jens works for a German firm that's the lead contractor for this store. He says the firm has come to Poland because the construction market has gotten weaker in Germany.

Jens (interpreter): We have to go further east. As you can see, here, there's enough work for everyone.

Nearly all the 25 workers on the site come from eastern Germany. They earn German wages, starting at about $14 an hour. That's two to three times the going rate in Poland.

The Germans are in Poland because there aren't enough Polish construction workers to do the job. And it's profitable territory. Building supplies are cheaper in Germany, so the Germans bring their own. They're also more skilled, and use better equipment.

Gerd Klayborn operates a crane with a remote control. He's delivering shingles to a team of workers on the supermarket's roof.

Gerd Klayborn: The roofers would have to bring the shingles up by hand, but I can drop the shingles exactly where they need them, and it goes much faster then. Normally for a roof like this, it would take roofers 14 days to do it. We need three.

Speed is just one reason German construction firms can reportedly do the job for 20 percent less than Polish firms, despite higher labor costs. Although they're paid well, some workers aren't exactly thrilled about coming all the way to Poland.

But mason Andre Gallose is philosophical:

Andre Gallose (interpreter): What can I say? We have to be here. We belong to Europe. The Poles go to England, and we're coming here to Poland.

They'll have plenty of work. Once this supermarket is done, they'll start building another one up the road.

In Brzeg, Poland, I'm Brett Neely for Marketplace.

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