Eastern European workers flocking to Denmark

Despite high unemployment at home, Danish businesses recruit thousands from new EU countries, report says

In 2012, 10,000 new workers from eastern Europe found work in Denmark. New figures from the economic policy institute Arbejderbevægelsens Erhvervsråd (AE) show that nearly 56,000 eastern Europeans are now working in the country, at a time when unemployment remains high among Danes.

While the majority of the workers are directly employed by Danish companies, some 6,500 work for foreign contractors in trades like construction and are in the country for an undetermined period of time.

The confederation of Danish employers, DA, has calculated that the number of spots filled by foreign workers adds up to 32,000 full-time jobs, not counting eastern European workers employed by foreign firms.

Søren Kaj Andersen, the director of the University of Copenhagen's Centre of Sociology, conducted a survey commissioned by Employment Minister Mette Frederiksen (Socialdemokraterne) of nearly 900 Danish enterprises that employ eastern Europeans. The study is an attempt to shed light on why Danish companies employ eastern Europeans when so many at home are out of work.

"There are two main reasons why employers find eastern Europeans appealing,” Andersen told Berlingske newspaper. “One is their willingness to work. Employers say that they make dedicated, stable employees with low absentee rates.”

The second motive is to save on labour costs. While their wages normally match the national averages, many eastern Europeans are willing to work for less. 

Lars Andersen, the head of AE, said that employers have acquired a taste for foreign labour, and eastern Europeans have acquired a taste for working in Denmark. He cautioned that rules often get bypassed when workers flood the system.

'Although there is agreement on paper, there is evidence that employees from eastern Europe work longer hours and do not get their holiday pay or pensions,” he told Berlingske.

Jørn Neergaard Larsen, the head of DA, had nothing but praise for the foreign workers.

“It is unacceptable that Danish employees will not take these common jobs,” Larsen told Berlingske. “If it were not for the many thousands who have travelled to Denmark for work, many companies would have given up trying to produce here. The labour migration has been a big plus for the Danish economy.”

Larsen said that the country’s social safety net creates a situation where “for many Danes, it doesn’t pay to work.”

Trade union 3F, which represents unskilled workers, disagreed completely with Larsen’s assessment.

"Employers have fired Danes and replaced them with foreigners at lower wages and poorer working conditions,” 3F spokesperson Arne Grevsen told Berlingske. “To say afterwards that Danes will not do these jobs is appalling.”

Søren Kaj Andersen's report will be delivered next month.