Foreigners’ work conditions probed

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Norwegian labour authorities are promising full anonymity to anyone who can tell them about pay and working conditions for hundreds of foreign technical experts, mostly from India, who’ve been working on projects for both Norwegian bank DNB and grocery retailer and wholesaler NorgesGruppen. The workers have been hired in through Tata Consultancy Services of India, which claims it “respects” the probes.

“If any irregularities have occurred, we will examine them and address them,” Jirimiko Oranen, Nordic communications director for Tata, told Norwegian Broadasting (NRK) on Wednesday. He claimed Tata would also cooperate with investigators at the Norwegian labour authority Arbeidstilsynet.

‘High priority’
Norwegian officials are alarmed by NRK reports that hundreds of Indian consultants specializing in information technology have been exploited by both Tata and DNB. Concerned DNB employees have told NRK that the Indian specialists in information technology (IT) are working night and day in DNB’s Oslo offices on the bank’s new Vipps electronic payment system, in apparent violation of Norwegian regulations that govern working hours and overtime pay.

On Tuesday NRK reported that NorgesGruppen, one of Norway’s biggest and most profitable companies, also had many Indian consultants working long hours in its Oslo offices after NorgesGruppen outsourced its computer systems to Tata.

“We are interested in coming in contact with people who can tell us honestly and correctly about the conditions for the IT workers in the Indian company Tata Consultancy Services,” Ørnulf Halmrast, a director of Arbeidstilsynet, told NRK. “This is a case we are putting a high priority on.”

NorgesGruppen has said it will cooperate with the authorities but has also decided to conduct its own investigation. It has hired in the law firm Haavind and accounting firm KPMG to review working conditions for the IT workers hired in through Tata.

“We intend to ask to see the contracts the employees have with the company,” Bård Gultvedt of NorgesGruppen told NRK. “We will also interview the employees of our supplier (Tata).”

Challenged by the barrier of fear
NRK has reported that it already has spoken with several Indian IT consultants, who fear they’ll suffer reprisals from their employer (Tata) if they complain or speak openly about their working conditions. Halmrast of the state labour authority said he and his colleagues are aware of the culture of fear often rampant among foreign workers in Norway, and said it’s difficult to get them to be honest about their working conditions.

“It’s a challenge we see in the branches where foreign workers are often used and where social dumping is a problem,” Halmrast told NRK. “Many fear they’ll lose their jobs and be sent home if they’re seen as blabbing to the authorities.”

He claims the workers should not fear being honest about information related to violations of Norwegian labour law. “We will never reveal information about what anyone has told us,” Halmrast said. “We promise full anonymity.” He said the workers’ bosses will never be told who has revealed their practices.

“We of course would not interview employees at their place of work, but rather have meetings in our offices or other places where no one would know them,” he said. Halmstad added that the labour authority is also in the process of hiring in people with special competence in various languages and other cultures, to communicate better with foreign workers.

DNB is not conducting its own investigation of its consultants’ work conditions, but said they will cooperate with Arbeidstilsynet. “We’re glad they’re looking into this,” claimed DNB spokesman Even Westerveld. “We have a good dialogue with the authorities.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund