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Danish businesses to train refugees for jobs

| Text: Marie Preisler

Less than one in three refugees in Denmark finds work after three years. Now the government and the social partners want to change this by introducing a two year integration education programme in the workplace.

More refugees are going to access the Danish labour market at a faster pace, even if they cannot carry out a normal job paid according to collective agreements from day one. That is the starting point for a new framework for the integration of refugees into the labour market agreed by the Danish government and the social partners. 

The aim is to get far more refugees into work, allowing them to provide for themselves. Today only a small number of refugees manage to get a foothold in the Danish labour market. In 2014, just 28 percent of refugees and members of their family arriving on family reunion aged 25 to 64 were working after spending three years in the Danish integration programme.

 The government aims to nearly double the number of refugees in work, and expects the new tripartite workplace integration agreement will play a crucial role in achieving this. 

The agreement is designed to speed up integration, and for it to happen in closer cooperation with businesses than what has been the case so far. Out of the agreement’s 32 measures, the most important and controversial is a new two year integration training programme, IGU. It allows for refugees and people on family reunion to be employed as students in Danish workplaces, being paid student salaries. This would allow them to gain the skills necessary to manage in the Danish labour market, while they are also taught Danish.

The new training is inspired by an existing two year basic vocational education, EGU. The refugees will be paid the same salary as students attending EGU, which is based on collective agreements. 

A comprehensive shift in integration

The social partners, the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) and the Confederation of Danish Employers (DA), jointly designed the new integration education, and the centre-right Danish government supported it right away. The plan is to have it passed by the Danish parliament before the summer recess, to be able to roll out a three year trial of the education programme already from 1 July 2016.

 The Minister for Employment, Jørn Neergaard Larsen (the Liberal Party), consider the integration agreement to be a comprehensive shift in the Danish integration drive:

 “We are addressing decades of failed measures. We will now be helping refugees get out into Danish workplaces and contribute rather than getting stuck in passive programmes,” he said when the agreement was presented just before Easter. The Minister for Immigration, Integration and Housing, Inger Støjberg (the Liberal Party), is also pleased that the agreement will make Denmark’s integration programme for newly arrived refugees considerably more work-related. So far the focus has mainly been on offering refugees Danish language classes.

During the negotiations, DA had to abandon their wish to bring in an introduction income for refugees, as this was unacceptable to trade unions. Nevertheless, DA is happy and calls the agreement “a non-bureaucratic way” of making it easier for businesses and refugees to agree on employment.

The agreement secures refugees an education which leads to a salary in line with collective agreements. Businesses which hire a refugee as a student are given a bonus worth up to 40,000 Danish kroner (€5,370) – half after six months, the rest after two years.

A victory for the collective bargaining system

The President of LO, Lizette Risgaard, is keen to highlight that the agreement has been shaped by the social partners. It is not a political diktat and does not change anything in terms of the collective bargaining system.

 “The Danish tripartite model has been declared dead and buried several times. But we have proven that it is very much alive, and we have shown willing to find solutions to major challenges facing the Danish social system,” the LO President said as the agreement was presented.

The agreement does not please everyone in the trade union movement, however. The Danish Trade Union of Public Employees (FOA) opposes the integration education. FOA’s members largely come from the public sector, and they do not want to contribute to the introduction of IGU. Yet they cannot stop it from happening.

FOA’s chairman, Dennis Kristensen, is particularly opposed to the student salary which refugees will receive during the new education programme. A refugee IGU student will earn around 120 Danish kroner (€16) an hour in a private workplace, but in a public workplace the IGU student salary is only around 50 kroner (€6.70) an hour. That is far too little to live off and will also tempt employers to fire permanent staff in order to hire far cheaper refugees, argues the FOA chairman.

FOA is also unhappy with the fact that employee representatives and trade unions are not allowed a say in when a business can hire a refugee on an IGU student salary, and FOA fears municipalities will want to save money elsewhere in order to be able to afford the extra expense of having refugees on student salaries.

Filed under:
The new integration agreement at a glance
Clear focus on jobs to boost integration Improved use of asylum and transition phase, including better screening of refugees’ skills Refugees should be considered ready for work Intensify and make the integration programme better targeted. Still up to five years of Danish language teaching and early access to intensive workplace-targeted measures. Refugees not ready for work will be offered programmes aimed at finding, adapting and executing apprenticeships with wage subsidies. The final aim is traditional employment. Part of the activity should be in a workplace. The model’s concrete content will be developed More business-related Danish language training Strengthened workplace service in municipal job centres Better frameworks to help businesses employ refugees, including a new two year long integration education (IGU), which builds on existing agreements and student salary levels Source: Ministry of Employment
Read the agreement (in Danish)
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