Danes say no thanks to low-wage jobs

July 10th, 2012

This article is more than 11 years old.

If the want ad calls for an unskilled worker, it is a safe bet that the position will not wind up being filled by a Dane

Even as the unemployment level has soared in recent years, a growing number of unskilled jobs in Denmark are being filled by people from places like Romania, Poland and Thailand.

Employers say that  the jobs go to the foreigners because Danes simply do not want them and that the nation’s social benefits are so high that it does not pay for Danish workers to take low paying, unskilled positions.

In one of the most extreme cases, Ruth’s Hotel in the resort town of Skagen has employed 16 eastern Europeans as housekeepers or dishwashers over the past two weeks. Of the nearly 30 people who applied for the vacant jobs, not one of them was Danish. Peter Christian Jensen, who runs the hotel, said that it is time to face facts.

“Danes do not want or need low-paying jobs anymore,” he told Jylland’s-Posten newspaper.

The latest numbers reveal that foreigners fill fully 80 percent of all jobs in the hotel, restaurant and catering industries and 30 percent in the cleaning business. Half of the jobs at plant nurseries in Denmark are filled by workers coming from outside the country.

After dipping to a historic low of less than 2 percent in 2008, unemployment gradually increased before levelling off at the current rate of around 6 percent. And Ole Pass, of Denmark’s association of social welfare managers, said tougher regulations might be a way to get some of the unemployed to take low-wage vacancies.

“It is a bit of a paradox that we are importing workers when we have high unemployment,” Pass told Jyllands-Posten. “Danes do not feel financially pressured because they get so much help from the government. Perhaps we need tougher sanctions.”

Pass also said although unemployment among young people is a growing problem, many young, out-of-work Danes get help from their parents, so they have no compelling reason to take a low-paying job.

Nina Smith, of Aarhus University, warned that reluctance to do unskilled labor can undermine the welfare state.

The economy minister, Margrethe Vestager (Radikale), said those who are currently out of work must be willing to take unskilled jobs while they are looking for something better to come along.

“All job seekers must make themselves available, “she said. “There is nothing wrong with doing this kind of work as long as the proper terms are maintained.”

Some fear that the foreign workers filling unskilled jobs are vulnerable to abuse because of language barriers, lack of knowledge about their rights, limited access to agencies that can help them and inadequate enforcement of employment legislation.

Recent stories about the systematic abuse of Romanians working for cleaning companies, add fuel to that fire

An investigation by Fagbladet 3F revealed that a subcontractor to Forenede Service, the nation’s second-largest cleaning company, was systematically exploiting Romanian cleaners it had brought to Denmark. The Romanians worked long hours with no pay and many lived in squalid conditions in a basement flat owned by the subcontractor.

Many of the workers reported being paid less than they were promised and some said they were not paid at all. Workers reported being threatened with physical violence, and some of them had their ID papers stolen.

Employers as varied as the University of Copenhagen and McDonald's have also been investigated for using undocumented foreign workers.

Foreign workers often become targets of abuse and suspicion in the workplace. Lasse Espersen, a masonry contractor, said many of his bricklayers are beginning to refuse to work on job sites where there are Albanians and Poles working in the other construction trades.

“The quality of their work is not up to Danish standards and the men say that too many tools and supplies disappear when foreigners are on the sites,” said Espersen.


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