State labour officials have concluded that eight out of 10 companies in the restaurant and hotel industry violate Norwegian labour laws. Young employees and asylum seekers are among those most vulnerable to being exploited by “non-serious players,” claimed the report from the labour regulatory agency Arbeidstilsynet.
“There are far too many employers who don’t follow fundamental work rules,” stated Ingrid Finboe Svendsen, director of Arbeidstilsynet, when releasing the new report. “They must take responsibility for offering their workers secure, good and legal working conditions.”
Foreign workers exploited the most
The report comes at a time when immigrants and especially the thousands of refugees who streamed into Norway last year are struggling more than ever to break into the Norwegian job market. Rising unemployment among Norwegians as well, following the dive in oil prices two years ago, has made the competition for jobs even tougher. Complaints have risen that non-Norwegians are often among the first to be laid off and the last to be hired.
“Few Norwegians like to hear that there is discrimination in the job market,” one young job seeker, Abdirahman Hassan, wrote in newspaper Aftenposten on Tuesday. “We still can’t ignore that it’s the immigrants who struggle the most to find work in Norway.”
Hassan is convinced that his name alone is a hindrance in Norway. “I was better qualified for a job than a friend of mine,” he wrote. “I was rejected but he was ethnic Norwegian, and got it.” Newsinenglish.no regularly receives calls from frustrated foreign job seekers. One man calling last week, a former sales consultant from the UK who followed his Norwegian girlfriend to Norway, said he’s applied for more than 100 jobs in the Ålesund area over the past several months, many of which even specified a need for an “English-speaking” sales representative. He’s also convinced his non-Norwegian name is the reason for his equally large string of rejections.
Many young and foreign workers in Norway find their best chances of finding a job within the hotel and restaurant industry, but the regulators’ new study shows that exploitation is common. State inspectors have made the food and lodging industry a “priority business” this year and last, with inspectors from Arbeidstilsynet examining working conditions at more than 3,000 restaurant-related companies during the past year alone. They have uncovered how 80 percent of them violated labour regulations, while noting that another 1,000 inspections are yet to be carried out.
The most common violations included a lack of signed work contracts, a lack of overtime payments, use of undocumented workers and what the regulators called “social dumping.” Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), which first aired news of the inspections late last week, reported that many workers don’t know what their rights are, and thus allow themselves to be exploited.
“Many immigrants don’t realize they should have the same rights as Norwegians, and can more easily be exploited if they don’t get help,” Helena Bozicevic, who represents around 70 workers at the Scandic Hotel Helsfyr in Oslo, told NRK. Bozicevic, originally from Croatia, stressed that she and her colleagues are treated well but she’s convinced that far from all restaurant employees are as fortunate.
“Our branch sees the possibility to take in cheap labour, and non-professional employers take advantage of that,” Bozicevic told NRK. She admits that she also “didn’t dare” to make demands after arriving in Norway from the former Yugoslavia, but now thinks she’s had better possibilities in Norway than in her homeland.
Violations ‘disturbingly high’
State labour inspectors reported that most employers do enter into contracts with their workers, but less than half met minimum requirements. More than 40 percent of those working in the lodging industry, for example, were not paid overtime.
“These numbers are disturbingly high,” Trine Hammer, national project leader and a senior inspector at Arbeidstilsynet told NRK. “There’s been no improvement, even though it’s in everyone’s best interests to fix this.”
Hammer said the inspectors cooperate with police, customs and tax authorities, and can file charges against companies violating regulations. The hotel and restaurant industry is especially at risk since it’s Norway’s largest employer of young and foreign workers.
“Asylum seekers who have had many job rejections don’t have other means of earning money, and young people aren’t aware of their rights,” Hammer said. “They’re all vulnerable to exploitation.”
Trond Solstad-Nilsen, a director at the Scandic hotel chain, said he was surprised there were so many cases of exploitation. “It’s no fun being part of a branch with such high numbers of violations,” Solstad-Nilsen told NRK. “Not all the violations are serious, but as an industry we can’t be well-served with numbers like 80 percent. The laws are there to be followed.”
Clas Haarek Delp of the trade union federation Fellesforbundet said he was not surprised. “But we’re always disappointed where there is such a massive inspection and an industry scores so poorly,” Delp told NRK. “The regulators have also offered guidance to companies, in how to do things right, but it still hasn’t helped.”