Tough job market for immigrants

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It’s not easy for immigrants to find work in Norway that’s relevant to their qualifications, and now it appears that once they land a job, their challenges are far from over. Two new studies show that they face far more bullying and frustration at work than most ethnic Norwegians. A top Labour Party official, meanwhile, claims his negative comments about Polish workers in Norway were misunderstood. On Sunday Polish workers in JobZone won the right to organize and secure better pay and benefits.

Fear of foreigners in Norway has long been one of the toughest issues facing immigrants, and it’s usually much more difficult for foreigners to find work in line with their education and experience than it is for ethnic Norwegians. Doctors often have to repeat much of their coursework, for example, and engineers have been known to wind up as janitors.

Now a study by the National Institute of Occupational Health (Statens arbeidsmiljøinstitutt, STAMI) points up wide differences in the degree of job satisfaction between immigrants and native Norwegians in Norway.

Another study, by three university professors in Norway, shows the number of immigrants who feel bullied on the job is twice that felt by other Norwegians.

“Immigrants often don’t get credit for their education or their experience before coming to Norway,” Tom Sterud of STAMI told newspaper Dagsavisen . “There are also special social relations at work that many immigrants feel are difficult.”It’s common, for example, for non-Norwegians to feel overlooked or excluded, both professionally and socially, on the job. Many with master’s or other advanced degrees aren’t given jobs relevant to their expertise.

The STAMI study found that 12 percent of immigrants view their jobs as a psychological challenge, compared to 3 percent of Norwegians. At least 10 percent of immigrants experience teasing or harassment on the job, compared to 1.5 percent of Norwegians.

Immigrants often only receive temporary jobs, instead of permanent positions, and therefore have little job security. Thaya Nagalingam from Sri Lanka, for example, wound up working at a post office after completing a five-year master’s degree program in data technology at Norway’s prestigious technical university (NTNU) in Trondheim. He ultimately found a job that used his skills, but it wasn’t easy.

Bashe Musse, spokesman for a Somalian organization in Norway, also said that many of his fellow members feel excluded by Norwegian colleagues on the job. “As an immigrant here, you have to fight to get a job, to be included amongst your colleagues on the job and to get the assignments you’re qualified for,” Musse told newspaper Aftenposten . Many other immigrants of other nationalities, from Americans to Chinese, have experienced the same.

Professor Stig Berge Matthiesen said the feeling of exclusion by colleagues “is the form of bullying foreign workers experience most of all. They feel overlooked and left out.” He fears racism is often the cause.

Matthiesen and colleagues Brita Bjørkelo and Morten B Nielsen presented their findings in a new book on cultural diversity at work, edited by Professor Gro Mjeldheim Sandal at the University of Bergen.

Labour leader ‘misunderstood’

Meanwhile, the secretary of Norway’s Labour Party was the target of criticism last week after suggesting that workers from Poland threatened the country’s social welfare state. Raymond Johansen claimed that Polish craftsmen and labourers brought to Norway because they’ll work for less than Norwegians can put a burden on the welfare system.

Now Johansen claims he was misunderstood. “I must say that workers from eastern Europe do a good job, and don’t threaten the welfare state,” he told Aftenposten .

“What I’m worried about is social dumping, that workers from Poland are exploited, with poor working and living conditions,” Johansen said.

He cited proposals to boost state regulation of work sites, that employers must abide by collective bargaining agreements and that labour organizers should gain insight into work agreements by third-party companies on behalf of foreign workers. “All these things are part of the fight against social dumping, and for the welfare state,” he said.

On Sunday around 100 Polish workers in the construction bureau JobZone won the right to organize and secure better pay and benefits, reports Aftenposten . They had threatened to strike but now have won promises that they’ll get new terms monitored by Norway’s trade union federation LO. They’ll be able to form their own union (called klubb in Norway), choose representatives, qualify for pensions and vacation pay and follow normal seniority rules regarding furlough or layoff.