The Croatian Chamber of Commerce (HGK) on Tuesday organised a conference called "Can Croatia make it without foreign workers?" which heard that Croatia needs a no-quota model for the import of labour, that 500,000 left the country over the past decade and that the able-bodied population will drop by one million by 2051.
According to projections, the number of able-bodied persons will drop from 2.8 million today to 1.8 million in 30 years or so and today it is clear that demographic changes will restrict GDP growth, said Andjelko Akrap, a professor at the Zagreb School of Economics.
We need decentralisation and a long term strategy of the country's development focusing on a population policy, he said, adding that countries with insufficient fertility rates for a natural population renewal were not well-organised.
HGK president Luka Burilovic said Croatia lost about 500,000 able-bodied persons over the past dozen years because of emigration and population ageing.
"That's why today we have a current chronic labour shortage which should be dealt with at once as it will be the main brake to our development. The new law on foreigners will abolish quotas and allow companies to hire as many workers as they need," he said.
Burilovic said Croatia must not allow bureaucratic sluggishness to hinder economic growth as it was already lagging behind the competition.
"This year Croatia's GDP growth will reach the pre-crisis year 2008, while comparable countries went ahead by almost 30%. The most worrying fact is that the number of persons employed, despite solid growth, was still 100,000 lower than in 2008, which is the most important indicator of a country's economic success and the basis for estimating the viability of social security, social progress and prosperity," he said.
The state secretary at the Interior Ministry, Zarko Katic, said the current quota model would be replaced with a no-quota system in order to enable employers to get permits to import workers within five days.
He added that in the first five months of the year, the Interior Ministry issued over 40,000 work permits for citizens of 55 countries.
Ruza Hrga of the Croatian Employment Service said the number of the jobless dropped by 65% since 2013, adding that 140,000 jobs were created over the past five years and that the registered employment rate had gone up 10%.