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Editorial: Bad working conditions under pressure

| Berit Kvam

What do you do if your colleague works twice as long at half the pay that you get? There are trades and individuals who gravely exploit cheap labour, and in times of crisis many will accept a lot in order to get a job. What is being done in the Nordic region to make sure labour market rules are being followed? The fight against social dumping is this month’s theme in the Nordic Labour Journal.

Compared to many other European nations, the Nordic countries enjoy low unemployment and certain trades need more people. Labour from outside has contributed to positive growth, but also to increased pressure on wages and working conditions. Now the fight against social dumping intensifies to make sure the influx of labour does not undermine Nordic labour market rules - although the individual countries have chosen different strategies and use different terms. 

Norway sees the universal applicability of collective agreements as an important tool to secure workers’ rights and stop social dumping. Recently, in a groundbreaking judgement, the country’s Supreme Court ruled against employers and said Norway’s practice is not in breach of EEA law.

Denmark’s Social Democratic government has made fighting social dumping a central issue and is introducing a range of new measures to stop foreign workers being paid less and offered worse working conditions than their Danish colleagues. The new rules are helping, even though they cannot completely get rid of the problem, claims Søren Kaj Andersen, a researcher in the field.

The Swedish government is being blamed for giving employers the power to decide the need for and therefore control over foreign labour. Some say a Swedish work permit is the easiest way of getting into Schengen. The hotel and restaurant workers‘ trade union warns against a slide towards slave-like conditions with low wages and long working hours which ruin workers‘ conditions, the collective agreement and the general conditions in the trade.  It wants rules which can stop bad employers.

Cross-border mobility can be a positive thing - Estonians in Finland are a good example of that. They have helped Finland’s construction industry to flourish. But at what cost to their home country? A Nordic study aims to find out whether countries are being bled dry of labour.

Nordic labour market models with tri-partite cooperation should in themselves work as buffers against social dumping. Yet it is not that simple. Extra measures are needed to fight the exploitation of individuals and bad working conditions.

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