Exploitation plagues Polish workers

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Workers from Poland have been building homes, offices, schools and otherwise making a solid contribution to Norway’s economy for years, but they still face discrimination in the labour market. Government officials vow to continue their fight against workplace exploitation.

A new study reported by newspaper Dagsavisen and in other Norwegian media this week shows that only around 20 percent of Polish workers in the construction and cleaning industries in Oslo have secured full-time, permanent jobs. Many still are subject to low wages and illegal working conditions, lacking written contracts, for example, and failing to be paid overtime or even the wages agreed.

Largest immigrant group
Since the opening of borders in 2004 within the European Union and among countries with agreements with the EU, like Norway, people from Poland have become the largest single immigrant group in Norway. New figures from research organization Fafo suggest around 16,000 Polish citizens live in the Oslo area alone, with 80 percent working within the construction and cleaning (renhold) industries.

The majority, however, remain subject to what the government calls “unserious” employers who try to avoid employer responsibility under Norwegian law, and the taxes that involves, by keeping Polish workers in low-paid, temporary positions.

“I know that things have become worse for Polish workers in Norway in recent years, not better,” Krzysztof Gajzler, a workers’ representative in employment firm Adecco, told Dagsavisen. He has worked in Norway for six years himself, and says many of his colleagues are constantly being asked to work on the black market, and they live with a lot of job uncertainty.

‘Not included’ in legal market
Fafo researchers say the “norm” among Polish workers is that they’re not included in “the ordinary labour market” in Norway. Since 2006, the number of those with permanent jobs has only rise 4 percent. Construction firms have used Polish workers as a “buffer” during the recent downturn, protecting their Norwegian workers while cutting out use of temporary workers, mostly from Poland, who are hired in.

“This just shows that our efforts to weed out the unserious operators must continue in high gear,” Jan-Erik Støstad, state secretary in the Labour Ministry, told Dagsavisen. Government officials, he said, will keep monitoring job sites and employers. “It’s clear the finance crisis has had a strong effect, that when times get tougher, those with few rights are affected the most,” added Støstad.

He thinks more Polish workers are conscious of the rights they can claim, though, and thinks that’s positive. “And it can still be better here than in Poland,” claimed Gajzler, who said he eventually hopes to return to Poland and start his own firm there.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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