A labor shortage could spell trouble for the tourism industry, according to the Croatian Employers Association and the Tourism Association.
The two organizations are asking the government to pass an emergency measure raising foreign worker quotas. As the tourism season nears its peak in July and August, the situation has become so dire, the organizations say, some businesses may not be able to open. They have sent a letter to the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Tourism asking the government to allow another 4,000 foreign workers into the country. Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said he does not want to rush into such a measure.
"When we determine without any doubt that our own labor resources have been depleted, then we can raise the quotas in the jobs where there is a need, but we don't want to make a decision without a solid argument," he said.
There are 6,000 people registered at the unemployment bureau who are able to work, argues Labor Minister Mate Pavić.
“We are keeping a close eye on the labor market. It is the policy of this government to first put our domestic labor force to work and then approve quotas as a last resort. But, if that's not enough, we will raise the quotas,” he said.
He's also pitched the idea of hiring retired people for seasonal work.
Tourism businesses argue that permits for foreign workers take weeks to obtain and that the people registered at the unemployment bureau are not the kind of workers they need.
"In most of these cases these are people who don't really want to work or they don't want to relocate from where they live. We need real-life solutions, immediate solutions, because in two weeks, it will be too late,” said Veljko Ostojić, from the Tourism Association.
Dalibor Matovina from the Amines Hotel Group says workers they hired back in February are still waiting for their work permits and many of the hires are giving up. Even if they permits do come through now, it will be too late to properly train the workers, he says.
It is not only the tourism industry that's been affected. The agricultural sector is also struggling. Ivica Bilić, who runs a tomato farm in Slavonia, says he can't find people to pick their product. He has hired some Ukrainian and Bosnian workers, but it is still not enough.
In late December 2019 the government decided that 65,100 permits could be issued to foreign workers in 2019, including 15,000 permits that have already been extended.
The highest number of the work permits are allocated to construction, tourism and transport. The quota for 2019 includes 20,331 more work permits than in 2018 and nearly 13,000 of them were allocated to tourism and construction.