“Open Balkan” – incentive and pressure for faster reform of the labor market

Regional economic integration is extremely important for our economy. Taking into account our aspirations to become a full member of the European Union, the Open Balkans Initiative should enable a faster structural adjustment to deal with all the challenges that the open market brings.

In order to answer what will be the effects on the labor market from the Open Balkans initiative, and from the process of negotiations and accession to the EU, several aspects are significant. First, what is the current structure of the labor market, especially with regard to the shortage of certain categories of qualified staff, 2) what is the salary structure compared to the countries we are opening to, and 3) how determined and ready are we for structural changes.

In our study, we analyzed the demand and supply for labor force, according to registered unemployed persons in the Employment Agency. At the moment, we have 112,000 registered unemployed people and a demand from companies for 2023 of about 15,000 people.

The results showed that we have a polarized situation, that is, especially surplus gaps when the supply of unemployed people for certain occupations is drastically higher than the demand, and deficit gaps in other occupations. Thus, in the occupations with high skills, the surplus gaps dominate, reaching the maximum in the occupations that generate the teaching faculties, where we have up to 75 unemployed people for one open job. On the other hand, there is a deficit for workers in service activities and general workers in various occupations, especially support staff.

The advantage of regional integration and the possibility of labor movement is that labor shortages, especially in border regions, can be filled with labor from neighboring countries. But there are also risks that the deficit gaps with high skills will deepen, in the occupations for experts and technicians in the information-engineering areas, where mobility is also higher by default.

The second aspect is what is the wage structure and premium for a particular occupation between countries, for a person to decide to move to the labor market in a neighboring country. In the context of the Open Balkans Initiative, for occupations with low skills, these premiums are probably low or non-existent, taking into account that both our minimum and average wages are similar to the rest of the Western Balkan countries. However, for activities of a seasonal nature and cyclical need for workers, differences in wages may appear and this may cause additional pressure on the already existing shortage of workers.

In the medium term, the Open Balkans Initiative should be a stimulus and a form of pressure for a faster reform of the labor markets, so that through the accession processes to the EU we fully prepare to deal with the challenges ahead. Those structural reforms are in adjusting the educational policies according to the demand of the labor market, then preventing abuse of the system and a quick transition from a system of social support to a system of employment and dealing with the informal economy.