Poland’s ambassador to Norway told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Monday evening that he’s deeply concerned over the poor working and living conditions to which many of his countrymen are subjected in Norway. He’s not alone: Norwegian labour activists are also trying to stem the exploitation of foreign workers, but most workers themselves don’t dare complain for fear of losing their jobs.
Polish Ambassador Wojciech Kolanczyk was questioned by NRK a day after two more Polish workers, both of them fathers of small children, were killed ina fire that swept through their boarding housein Bergen over the weekend. Just last year seven Polish workers died in a similar fire in Drammen. All the men were living in crowded conditions in run-down properties.
“I am extremely worried,” Kolanczyk told NRK. “I am angry that some Polish workers are not treated in the same way as Norwegian workers.”
Nor are workers from a host of other countries who come to Norway to work, most of them in the construction industry. They often are forced to live in substandard housing at high rents, and earn much less than their Norwegian counterparts.
Newspaper Bergens Tidende reported Monday that many Polish workers simply accept the poor, and often dangerous, housing because they’re desperate for the work. None of the 23 persons evacuated from the burning house in Bergen would speak to reporters.
Mads Wiik Kleven, a union leader in Bergen, is especially concerned about cases in which the housing is owned or controlled by the construction firms hiring the workers. “To be both landlord and employer can be a very unfortunate double role,” Kleven told Bergens Tidende . “We’ve been worried about such arrangements for a long time. It can make it even more difficult for the workers to report the bad conditions because they risk losing everything, both their job and their home.”
It wasn’t immediately clear who owned the apartments in the Bergen boarding house. As many as nine persons are believed to have been living in each apartment.
Labour advocates say they also try to talk to the foreign workers, but it’s not easy. State labour officials also have tried to investigate living conditions for foreign workers, and fine landlords found to be offering “unworthy” accommodation.