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Saturday, May 21, 2022

Innovation Norway lands in trouble

Innovation Norway, which bills itself as the Norwegian Government’s “most important instrument for innovation and development of Norwegian enterprises and industry,” and also promotes Norway abroad, has itself been accused of breaking Norwegian and even Chinese labour laws at last year’s Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

An artist's rendering of the Norwegian pavilion at Expo 2010, where several Norwegian guides claim they were subjected to labour violations. PHOTO: Expo 2010 Shanghai

Newspaper Dagsavisen reported this week that 10 Norwegians who worked as guides at Norway’s Pavilion at Expo 2010 have written a report in which they reveal a long list of labour violations to which they were subjected. Among other things, they routinely worked more than 10-hour days and received no overtime or extra pay for working holidays, they were forbidden to marry or become pregnant during the term of their job contracts, and they were fined if they came to work late.

They earned NOK 5,400 (around USD 980 at current rates) a month, but also received housing, uniforms and meals so they had no major complaints over their compensation. But they were unhappy to learn that they were suspended from the Norwegian state insurance fund (Folketrygden) during their temporary overseas assignment and that they even were forbidden to quit.

All had thought they would be employed by Innovation Norway when they applied for jobs at Expo, not least since Innovation Norway had primary responsibility for Norway’s pavilion and because Innovation Norway’s logo was on initial paperwork. They ended up, however, being technically employed locally in China and paid taxes to China.

None of the 10 want to be identified publicly, for fear that would harm their future job possibilities. “We really didn’t want this all to land in the media,” one of them told Dagsavisen. “But this (Innovation Norway’s operation) is (funded by) folks’ tax money and people have a right to learn how the state behaves itself outside the country. This is all in strong contrast to how Norway wants to profile itself.”

Crown Prince Haakon and several government ministers, including the labour minister, traveled to Shanghai to visit the pavilion. “It felt absurd when we were working under such conditions,” one guide told Dagsavisen.

Especially embarrassing is the fact that the Norwegian labour confederation LO, an umbrella group for various labour unions, was represented on the board of Expo 2010. Anthony Kallevig of LO called the contract violations, like being fined for arriving late to work, “completely unacceptable.” He said some of the violations were corrected after the workers complained.

Innovation Norway’s legal owner, the government ministry for business and trade (Nærings- og handelsdepartementet) declined to comment. “It’s Innovation Norway that has had responsibility for operation of the pavilion, including employer responsibility for the guides,” wrote the ministry to Dagsavisen. “We therefore refer this matter to Innovation Norway.”

‘Good enough’
Arild Blixrud was commissioner for the pavilion and claims the workers received “high pay” by Chinese standards. He also thinks their insurance arrangements were good enough.

“A lot can be said afterwards,” he told Dagsavisen, adding that “we had to find a solution that was satisfactory from a cost standpoint. We had a strict framework.” He claimed the guides “should have realized they’d be working under Chinese law and authority,” noting that “only some leaders (of foreign operations)” actually employed by Innovation Norway.

Blixrud said he has taken the guides’ criticism seriously and admits “not all the solutions we found were good enough. It’s sad some of their expectations were different than what they received.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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