The prime minister’s party Socialdemokraterne has launched a campaign that can currently be seen on buses in Copenhagen. Refugees should work is the message. And immigrants. There will be tougher rules and more demands, and welfare benefits will no longer be handed out on a plate, the party warns, or should that be seen to warn?
Making little sense
But the refugees have never refused to work. On the contrary, they have been sitting idle and frustrated at refugee centres. Many even have obligations at home they would like to honour if only they had a decent income. Many of them even manage to send back funds from the petty cash they are given.
The PM in her new year’s address said the same, but stressed that the refugees in question should first learn Danish. That does not make a lot of sense since everybody in the European Economic Area can come and work no matter what language they speak or understand. It is estimated there are more than 100,000 immigrants from all over Europe – quite a few from the eastern parts are working here without much Danish to help them out – and it works very well as they all speak some English.
Unions to blame
The real problem is that Danish unions consider the immigrants and refugees as competitors and a threat to labour agreements established more than a hundred years ago to protect working conditions, holiday and maternity leave etc – and a decent salary to go with it all.
Over the last 30 years, conditions have changed. Low-wage countries such as China have taken thousands of jobs. Danish Crown is now closing slaughterhouses because pigs are sent south to be processed by cheaper labour.
The recent problems at the airport involving Ryanair and Norwegian show that working conditions are increasingly international. Harald Børsting, the chairman of the union confederation LO, has said he will protect the Danish model and he would rather not have an airport industry in Denmark than have his members work under Ryanair or EasyJet’s conditions without a labour agreement.
The Danish model is about employers and employees agreeing on labour contracts and letting the government shape the framework of legislation. No wonder that the unions want to protect that. The employers, meanwhile, abandon ship and move elsewhere with their business.
Time for a change
Conditions in the Danish production industry have been forcing developments in robotisation and automatisation because the payback calculations on the investments make such steps very favourable. The higher the wages, the faster the payback. In the meantime outsourcing helps profitability too.
Years ago the unions would not even let the refugees distribute newspapers.
Børsting should modernise his model. Young people should have introductory soft terms. Less capable workers should have part-time flexible job offers. Ageing workers should have senior flex jobs. Refugees should according to their qualifications be taken on as professionals without too much red tape preventing them from having their credentials recognised. Everybody should work if they want to.
If that does not happen we will see Børsting and his unions continue with the old Danish model and very little else.