Trial begins over rights to work

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The leader of an employment agency in the Stavanger area was having his days in court this week, keen to defend his decision to hire asylum seekers and other foreigners even though they lack formal working permission in Norway. He doesn’t think that’s a crime.

The trial over whether asylum seekers and illegal aliens have a right to work began in the Oslo County Courthouse this week. PHOTO: Wikipedia

“I acknowledge the facts (of what authorities claim is illegal employment) but not that they’re a punishable offense,” said Arne Viste, who runs the employment agency Plog AS in Sola, as his trial began.

Viste actually wanted state prosecutors to indict him after he’s alleged to have willfully violated regulations against employing asylum seekers without working permission. News bureau NTB and many other media outlets have reported that Viste is also willing to go to jail in his effort to clarify regulations.

“I want the court to reduce the uncertainty around what’s allowed and not allowed when it comes to assisting asylum seekers in Norway who lack legal permission (to be in the country),” Viste told NTB last week before his trial in the Oslo County Court began.

Lots of support
The courtroom was packed when his trial began and his supporters demonstrated outside. Many contend that it’s better, especially for young asylum seekers, to be allowed to work while waiting for official permission to do so or contesting rejection. Having a job can give them a sense of purpose, help them learn Norwegian and integrate while also providing a means of economic support.

Prosecutor Hans Petter Pedersen Skurdal questioned Viste’s motives in his opening arguments: “Is this just benevolence and charity, or economic motivation, or a combination of both?” Skurdal is convinced that Viste broke the law, claiming that Norway’s constitution does not provide individuals with a right to work.

Viste, however, told newspaper Vårt Land that he’ll appeal the case, if he loses, all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. He has employed around 70 different asylum seekers over the past four years and paid out more than NOK 8.5 million in wages to them. He’s indicted for violations of immigration law including “pre-meditated and exaggerated negligence in making use of a foreigner’s work capacity when the foreigner does not have the necessary permission under the law.”

Happy he was ransacked
Viste, age 52, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he was jubilant when police finally ransacked his home and company where he also has employed “unreturnable” asylum seekers whose applications for asylum have been rejected. He currently has around 40 people on his payroll.

Skurdal calls his business that includes an online store “an illegal operation,” claiming that it is “illegal to make use of workers from abroad who do not have permission to either be or work in Norway.” Viste wants to test that law.

“I don’t see myself as a criminal,” he told NRK last year, long before his court case came up this week. “I believe the constitution gives these people a right to work. If I lose, I’ll take my punishment, not before.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund