Care home scandal spreads again

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Allegations of breaches of employment law by private providers at care (nursing) homes across Norway continue to spread – with company Norlandia Care the latest to come under scrutiny, after a long series of revelations about employment agency Adecco over the past month.

The Adecco case, which extended to its temporary worker provision services in a number of sectors, began with the discovery of illegal practices in nursing homes that it runs for the city council in Oslo, where employees were found to be working 84 hour shifts, missing overtime pay and suffering from underpayment or nonpayment of pension contributions.

The latest scandal regards another home in the capital, Madserud nursing home, and Norlandia Care now stands accused of not paying a number of Swedish nurses around 700 hours of owed overtime pay, beginning in 2008, as well as allowing illegal double shifts and the staying of employees in patient rooms.

‘Informed that they did not pay overtime’
The unpaid overtime affects three Swedish nurses who have worked at the home, including Anna Lena Berglund, who told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she was “informed verbally that they did not pay out for overtime” when she first became a full-time employee during July 2010. Between December 9 2010 and January 3 2011, she and a number of co-workers lived in patient rooms and worked long hours, with Berglund in particular working every day during the period, and doing seven double shifts.

Norlandia Care claims that the nurses in question chose to work such long hours against the instructions of management, something which has been “taken up” with the employees “many times.” A statement from the company stressed that “the nursing and care industry is shift-based,” adding that “everyone that works in shifts has an independent responsibility and a tradition of control over their own working schedule.” The statement also confirmed that a “weakness” in the shift registration and wages systems used at the home, which led to a lack of information on which employees had undertaken overtime, had now been corrected.

In response, Berglund told NRK that she did not recognize management’s account of how they had instructed the nurses, stating that she was “disappointed” to find herself being scapegoated.

Further breaches suspected as investigation begins
Liv Andreassen, a representative of the nursing home workers’ union, told NRK that she believes the illegal practices at the home will “apply to many more” than the three employees already identified. She thinks that such breaches of the law will apply “especially to the Swedish nurses.” She also described Nordlandia Care’s comments regarding the responsibility of employees to be “unreasonable,” adding that “it is the employer’s responsibility to make sure that regulations are observed.”

State regulators will now investigate the nursing home operation, as they are doing for a number of others across Norway in light of the multiplying revelations surrounding the sector. Most of the scandals have related to international human resources firm Adecco, who have lost a string of contracts for the running of nursing homes across the country and had to apologise to other companies for exposing the employment agency sector to the media spotlight. The news has sparked a national debate other the issue of temporary workers’ rights, as well as whether employers should have more flexibility to allow unusual shift patterns often demanded by employees, which can be found in working practices on many of Norway’s offshore oil platforms.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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