On the Wave of Employment

Authors: Delphine Hotua, Anette  Stickel, Emine Topkaya, Leyla B. Bayramli, Petra Jurič
Photos: Delphine Hotua

Illustration: Anette Stickel

Youth unemployment rate is scoring everywhere in Europe. But does it mean that everybody is in the same boat ? From one country to another the situation can go from bad to worse. In the Republic of Macedonia for example people can do lots of sacrifices just for a little amount of money.

We have focused on the little town of Kavadarci, located in the heart of the Balkan region and at about hundred kilometres from the capital Skopje. Surrounded by vineyards with a Mediterranean climate, it looks like the ideal place to live a simple life. But something important is missing: good work opportunities.

                                       Kavadarci is a town located in the Tikveš region of the Republic of Macedonia

To fight against that, the local people are ready to sacrifice their private life, their pride, and to accept a job that asks them to leave their country and to work hard under indecent conditions.

Borče Gjorčev, 26 years old, is one of them. He studied engineering but has never worked in this field. Since 2007 he has been working for a cruise company as a cabin steward, satisfying the whims of 1500 exigent customers. “The main reason why I have decided to do that and to go abroad is the money I can earn from it and that’s it.”

                              Borče Gjorčev, 26 years old, works as cabin steward for a cruise company for 5 years

The life off the coast is perfectly reflecting the society back on the dry land, with all its disparities, inequalities and contrasts. On the cruise ship you have, on one side, the height of overconsumption with its unlimited pleasures, food in abundance and far niente – do nothing – as a way of life. On the other side, you have people such as housekeepers, waiters, cleaners, photographers,… working 10 hours a day, 7 days a week for a wage under all expectations and hardly hoping for a better future.

7 days on a ship, every day in a different country

Borče explains to us how life looks like while working for a cruise company: “on a ship, I never sleep more than five to six hours. It’s hard, it’s not easy but you make money and you can be happy.”

Happy with a minimum wage of 482 euros (600 $) for a simple cleaner, that can rise up to 4020 euros (5000 $) for a higher position plus the benefits of meals and accommodation, as Tatjana Radnjanska, the manager of Traveo – the only private recruitment agency in Kavadarci – officially communicates.

Or happy with a salary of 40 euros (50 $) a month ? Apparently the crew members live nearly only from the tips they receive. Those tips reach most of the time the official amount of 4000 euros.

“That’s why my motto is ‘be happy all the time and smile all the time’” says Borče. He adds: “I would have had to work few years in Macedonia to earn the amount of money I earn in only one cruise.” 

                                                                                  My motto is “be happy and smile all the time”

According to Tatjana, the manager of Traveo, another benefit is that after a nine month working period, the cruise members get two months holiday. But during those months of holiday, they don’t receive any salary. It is actually the end of their contract and they are kindly allowed from the cruise companies to have a rest before going on another cruise and begin to work again at full steam.

Hoping for a better future

If the cruise company is satisfied about the work the crew members are doing, they can evolve easily and get a better job in the crew. But again, differences would be made according to your country of origin. Borče testifies: “it’s really hard to get a good position if you come from the Balkans. There is no specific management training in the Balkan countries, therefore all the manager positions go to French and German people.” 

Back to the harbour, anchor is casted, everybody can go home. But where is home for Borče ? “I don’t know people anymore.  I don’t know the place anymore. I can’t get back anymore”, he says. It’s like having seasickness on the dry land.

These work opportunities seem like a choice but actually they are not. Reality gives people no alternative. It is leaving your roots or waiting for a job that will hardly come. In both cases, you need to fight with the tough reality of the labour market and hope for a better future…


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