Andrea Palasciano, Agence France-Presse, March 17, 2021
Russian construction executive Vitaly Lychits bemoans a shortage of cheap foreign workers during the coronavirus pandemic as he walks across frost-covered ground at a building site in southwest Moscow.
Now, with millions of foreign labourers from the former Soviet Union stuck at home due to pandemic-induced border closures, Russian companies have had to adapt, hiring more expensive workers from the country’s regions.
“Migrants worked until the end of the year, then they went home for the holidays and now it’s problematic for them to come back,” Lychits, deputy director of construction at Granelle, a Moscow-based developer, told AFP.
“We’re hiring workers from Russian provinces despite the fact that we have to factor in extra labour costs.”
Granelle, which is mainly active in and around Moscow, typically employs workers from Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Before the outbreak of the pandemic, Russia had around 10 million migrant workers and roughly 70 million Russian employees, according to estimates from migration experts.
Migrant workers’ remittances are essential for the economies of their countries of origin, particularly poor ex-Soviet nations like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Russia’s interior ministry said last year that nearly half of all migrants living in the country before the pandemic had left.
Granelle’s Lychits said that roughly half of the company’s workers now come from Russian provinces but their wages are up to 20 percent higher than those of foreign labourers.
Experts say that the number of foreign guest workers has been steadily declining since 2015 due to Russia’s deteriorating economy and the weakening of the ruble.
In the long term, Russia risks facing a major lack of manpower as many migrants seek work in Europe, Turkey and Iran, said demographer Yury Krupnov.
“There is a general problem of technological backwardness. Employers want to endlessly use cheap unskilled workers,” Krupnov said. “And there are no signs that something will change.”