POLISH BOSSES LOOK EAST FOR RELIABLE, CHEAP LABOR

POLISH BOSSES LOOK EAST FOR RELIABLE, CHEAP LABOR

Entrepreneur Robert Stankiewicz has spent two years building his dream house on the outskirts of Warsaw. Three months ago, fed up with Polish workers, he hired Vasili, Mikhail, Ivan and Yakov from Ukraine.

He is not the only Polish employer to do so. All around the outskirts of the capital, workers from the former Soviet Union are building luxury houses for Poland's new rich.Poles who have benefitted from two years of market reforms are now

finding that it pays to pass on some of that wealth to their eastern neighbors.

"I've had miserable experiences with Polish workers. They drink. They work for a while and then go on a binge for a week," Mr. Stankiewicz said in an interview.

"These Ukrainian guys work 12 hours a day, they don't drink and they do a month's work in three weeks."

They also work for a tenth of the average wage demanded by their Polish counterparts.

For Vasili - hired with his brother, father and brother-in-law by a shadowy cross-border employment agency in Lvov in Ukraine - the convertibility of the zloty means that even a modest Polish wage is worth a small fortune.

Their 1.2 million zlotys a month buys them around $110 at one of Poland's flourishing private exchange offices. On the Ukrainian black market these are worth more than a hundred times what they could earn back home.

They do not mind sharing a makeshift bed on the concrete floor of the two-story house, and work to the sound of heavy metal music played on their new Japanese tape recorder.

"I'm going to get a different model because this is not the best one," said Vasili, who also plans to buy Western-made clothes for his wife and child back in Lvov.

In 1991 more than 6 million people crossed from the then-Soviet Union into Poland to take advantage of its liberal foreign exchange laws and ready supply of consumer goods.

"On any given day, there were around 200,000 former Soviets in Poland," said border guards spokesman Jaroslaw Zukowicz.

Judging by the cross-border movements, most are commuters following a practice pioneered by their new-found employers.

Before 1989, when reforms first began to transform their economy, Poles earned valuable hard currency in the market places and building sites of Germany and Austria.

Just as the Poles were interested in making money to take home, so these new travelers do not appear to be the permanent economic refugees so feared by Western Europe.

"We plan to work for a few months, make some money and then go back," said Vasili, who sees no point in going further west.

The number of people crossing into Poland from the east has already dropped dramatically since prices were freed in Russia and Ukraine at the beginning of the year.

But while eastern traders can no longer exploit price differences, Vasili believes work in Poland will be an attractive proposition for a long time to come.

"Although I think reform in the Ukraine will move fast, it will take years before wages at home catch up," he said.

Polish newspaper reports say that a rash of private cross-border employment agencies like the one that matched Vasili and his family with Mr. Stankiewicz have sprung up in recent months.