Expats hit again as jobless rate rises

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The numbers of people without jobs in Norway continue to rise, with state welfare agency NAV reporting another increase in those registering themselves as out of work and applying for unemployment benefits. As Norway’s biggest bank braces for major losses in the oil service sector, new statistics show how layoffs also are extending from the oil and gas industry into other business areas, and expat workers in Norway are among those hit the hardest.

NAV stands for "Ny Arbeids- og Velferdsforvaltning" (New Labour and Welfare Management) but the management aspect has been under constant criticism. NAV has hundreds of offices all over Norway, where around 20,000 employees handle claims for everything from pension to welfare, sick leave, disability and unemployment benefits, to name a few. PHOTO: Wikipedia

NAV offices like this one in Oslo are bracing for more brisk activity given the rising numbers of Norwegians out of work. PHOTO: Wikipedia

NAV reported on Friday that a total of 95,800 people were registered as without work and looking for new jobs at the beginning of November. That’s up by 12,100, or 14 percent, from last year at this time.

NAV and state statistics bureau SSB (Statistics Norway) measure the unemployment rate in different ways, with NAV logging actual registrations of people out of work and SSB reporting how companies have announced job cuts and pending layoffs. NAV’s figures now put the unemployment rate at 3.5 percent, while SSB’s official unemployment rate is now 4.6 percent.

‘Bloody unfair’ for expat workers
There was some good news this week from the once-booming oil services industry, with Aker Solutions confirming a new contract with BP Norge worth NOK 3.2 billion. Aker Solutions, faced with a sharp decline in profits through the first-half of this year, is nonetheless moving forward with job cuts that are throwing another 200 people out of work.

Especially hard-hit are engineers and other workers who were hired from abroad during the boom years, and now face having to return home unemployed if they don’t manage to quickly find new jobs with the same title listed on their work visas. Foreign workers in Norway often don’t qualify for unemployment benefits either, and often receive far less lucrative severance packages from their Norwegian employers than Norwegians do. “It’s bloody unfair and undignified treatment of important workers,” Lise Randeberg, president of the labour organization Tekna, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN).

Given the rising unemployment among Norwegians, it’s unlikely the country’s conservative government coalition will make any changes in the immigration and labour regulations to help expats. “I understand that losing a job when you’ve worked in Norway for several years is difficult,” Kristian Dahlberg Hauge, a state secretary for the Progress Party in the labour minstry, told DN. He added, though, that it’s “government policy” to “base it on the domestic workforce first and then labour from the EØS (European Economic Area), before we open up to take in workers from outside Europe.” He said that “with the situation in Norway, with unemployment rising and many (Norwegian) engineers out of work, “it’s difficult to see any liberalization of the rules.”

Loan losses loom
NAV’s new boss Sigrun Vågeng said there’d been a doubling of planned layoffs reported in October, with 4,498 people being told they would lose their jobs and another 6,987 warned they may be laid off. Rogaland and Hordaland counties, home to much of Norway’s oil and offshore sector, have suffered the biggest job losses, but Vågeng said they’re now spreading to Akershus (around Oslo) and Trøndelag (around Trondheim).  Vågeng chooses to remain optimistic, repeating earlier claims that unemployment is easing in some areas of the country and some export-oriented industries are doing better because of Norway’s weak krone.

Norway’s biggest bank, DNB, warned earlier this week, however, that it’s bracing for more major losses in the oil service industry, and that the downturn may be worse than it was in shipping after the finance crisis. “We expect loan losses to creep up,” DNB’s chief executive told DN before speaking to investors in London on Wednesday. “We think that some players within the offshore and service sector not least will have major problems.” New figures from SSB this week showed that investment in oil and gas ventures in Norway next year is estimated at NOK 171 billion, NOK 10 billion less than expected in August and NOK 15 billion less than what oil companies themselves predicted last spring. DNB is bracing for loan losses of around NOK 5 billion.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund