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21 September, 2011  ▪  Inna Zavhorodnya

Cashing In On the Jobless

Ukrainians are finding it increasingly hard to find a job without having to pay a bribe

In a number of Ukrainian cities, job openings would have to take the form of a price list for job placement services. Labor relations in today's conditions of widespread unemployment, low salaries and industrial decline abound in outrageous phenomena that many take for granted. One of them is bribery. In an increasing number of places, it is impossible to land a job without greasing someone’s palm.

PAY FOR A DIPLOMA, PAY FOR A JOB

Inna Papp, who used to live in Dubno (Rivne region) and is now a Kyiv resident, constantly faced the necessity of paying bribes. “When I entered technical college, it cost me USD 200,” she says. Corrupt education is just a stepping stone toward paid-for job placement. After having bought diplomas and dished out bribes during their studies, former students and their parents try to use the same method to solve subsequent issues in life. The principle of fair competition does not apply – few employers trust diplomas that everyone knows can be bought.

“In order to get a job for me as a nurse in a Rivne hospital, my parents saved money. We were prepared to pay, but the vacancy was already taken when we came. Now they charge USD 2,000 for this job,” Papp continues. Even though she emphasizes that there are opportunities for free-of-charge job placement in the region, they are typically unattractive.

Dubno resident Olena Kurishko cannot find any job that does not require paying a bribe. She has a diploma giving her the right to work as an elementary school teacher and has been registered with the city and district education departments for two years now. “There are indeed no jobs in Dubno, especially for elementary school teachers, because there is a pedagogical college in town. The district department of education can give you a teaching job in the countryside. Such openings did exist, but I learned about them only after the vacancies were taken. There was recently a job for a watchman, but it was given to a retired man who receives a UAH 2,000 pension.”

Another reason people have difficulties with employment is that a local college or university may produce too many specialists. Experts justly note that the state should pursue a policy that would permit effective distribution of the potential workforce and attract employees with housing arrangements. For example, there is a shortage of doctors in the Dnipropetrovsk region and a lack of even nurses in Dnipropetrovsk itself. Similarly, there is the issue of government contracts with colleges and universities – this is where the Education Ministry could play a more regulatory role.

A school principal in the Tulchyn district (Vinnytsia region) told The Ukrainian Week: “There used to be no corruption [during job placement]. Several years ago I had to tour villages and search for people because there were so many vacancies. Since then the number has steadily dropped. Now there are literally 3-4 people competing for each job.” However, the large number of unemployed in Ukraine leads to an auction of bribes rather than competition among professionals.

HOW BRIBING WORKS

“It’s not like a person comes in and is told, 'Pay a bribe',” Kurishko says. “You always work through someone else, usually a common acquaintance. If a job ‘costs’ USD 200, you can be told as much directly. But if they charge USD 2,000, arrangements are made through an intermediary. You look for that person and strike a deal. When there is a job opening, the intermediary tells the job seeker about the vacancy. The latter comes to the employer for an ordinary job interview. After the interview, the intermediary says how much should be paid and to whom.”

The principles of Ukrainian nepotism are nearly universal: what happens in Dubno equally applies to Zaporizhia. “There's a limited number of job openings at plants, while at the same time many local residents need jobs,” says a former employee of Zaporizhvohnetryv. “A number of enterprises pay fairly high wages, so the line of people wanting to get a job there is very long and they may wait for two to three years. They give bribes to get a job there, and to do that they go through relatives and acquaintances. They find people who have connections with the HR department. Those for whom a word has been put in quickly advance in the line. This system exists virtually at all plants that regularly pay wages. It does not apply only where payments are constantly disrupted or wages are low.”

FROM THANKFULNESS TO FLEECING

Corruption so often comes hand-in-hand with thankfulness that it has nearly become a behavioral norm for Ukrainians. “My friend, who is a psychologist, works as an educator in a Kyiv kindergarten,” Papp says. “The psychologist in their kindergarten was going on maternity leave and her job was up for grabs. The head of the kindergarten told my friend: ‘Valia, do you want this job?’ ‘Yes, I would like it.’ ‘Then we’ll need to somehow make a deal with the methodologist. Perhaps you'll need to give her something.’ It's like some kind of unwritten law that everyone has grown accustomed to.”

“Corruption becomes a certain social cultural stereotype – it appears in some situations that it would be untactful not to give a bribe, even if it is not really necessary,” says Mykhailo Mishchenko, deputy head of the sociological service at the Razumkov Centre. “This is the biggest problem, because it's very hard to eradicate social cultural stereotypes. When they speak about the need to fight corruption in our country, they most often mean abuse in the higher echelons of power. But its social-psychological roots lie in everyday corruption. This is where certain stereotypes of social behavior take shape that are later reproduced in the structure of government. One of our polls shows that the level of the so-called everyday corruption is fairly high in our country.”

Sometimes bribery turns into a patent moneymaking scheme and without any guarantees at that. It is risky and too expensive, but people still pay. One of Papp's relatives once paid an impressive sum to place her daughter but was eventually left with nothing – no job and no money.

CUSTOMS AND RIGHTS

The existing customs are directly contingent on society itself – people simply find them acceptable. “It is no problem to learn how much a job costs,” Kurishko says. “For example, there is a line of people in the district department of education, and total strangers openly speak among themselves about bribes, just like they talk about weather or politics.”

“The culture of power is on a very low psychological level in our country,” says Natalia Kukhtina, psychoanalyst and member of the European League of Professional Psychotherapy. “It doesn’t matter if you take the Presidential Administration or a village council. It very often happens that people simply happen to rise to power. They assert themselves by demanding bribes and subjecting others to themselves.” To bribe or not to bribe is, after all, a personal choice. And the less protected the person is, the more easily she complies with the demands of bribe takers. “A businesswoman I know has a daughter who was looking for a job,” Kurishko says. “She was told to pay USD 2,000. She didn’t because she understood that the first layoffs would affect her child. She told them she was no cash cow. Less well-to-do people save and borrow money and pay.”

“The job is a way to provide for oneself and one's family. If a person doesn’t have a job, her psychological security is threatened. That is why people compromise with their conscience, succumb to self-inflicted moral coercion and pay bribes,” Kukhtina explains. “People understand they are doing a bad thing, but the survival instinct has the upper hand. Their children are hungry back home. Is there anything more dreadful?”

The UNDP National Report on Human Development concluded that tolerance to corruption leads to a lower standard of living. The level of social rejection is much higher in villages and small towns where most residents tolerate unofficial payments for medical services, education and employment.


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