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The eastern workers challenge the trade union movement

The trade unionists are preparing for a tough fight for rights.


On 1 May 2006, the transitional rules for jobseekers from Eastern Europe expire. The transitional rules introduced by a number of EU countries in addition to Norway last until 1 May 2006. What happens after that date nobody knows today. Preparations are underway in several countries, but nothing has been clarified.

Norway has long been a paradise for creative middlemen who have imported cheap labor from Eastern Europe to Norwegian workplaces. In contrast to both Denmark and Sweden, the Norwegian market has been perceived as easy to operate in.

FAFO Norwegian Line Eldring pointed out in an interview with Ny Tid recently that it has been easy to establish oneself in Norway.

- Organizational and contractual coverage is low in some industries and the employer side has so far been skeptical about alternative regulatory mechanisms. This opens up a market where intermediaries can enter and mediate cheap labor from Eastern Europe to Norway with large profits, she says.

The Joint Federation closely monitors what is happening in the Norwegian labor market, and there are constantly emerging examples of exploitation of foreign labor. Last week, they were able to reveal the case of 10 Poles with a base salary of NOK 9 per hour, and a main contractor who did not know who the subcontractor had hired. These are facts found by the Joint Federation in the wage dumping case at Heimdal Entreprenør AS in Trondheim.

At the same time, another serious case emerged about Polish workers who have been deceived by an employer in Kristiansand. The employer owes them 450 kroner while they have no money for food or the journey home to Poland. We are talking about eight Polish craftsmen who have worked for several months in Kristiansand without pay. When the employer had to pay wages – he disappeared.

Needs right of access

In its proposal for the Act on the Generalization of Collective Bargaining Agreements, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs proposes that shop stewards be given access to the pay and working conditions of the companies covered by the generalization of collective agreements.

Kjell Skjærvø, an adviser to the Fellesforbundet, is the one in the trade union movement that has worked the most to reveal unworthy and criminal conditions on Norwegian construction sites. He says to the magazine the proposal the government comes up with in some areas is a step forward, while in other areas it is not achieving goals. He believes that the union representatives need a general right of access to pay and working conditions in order to prove that social dumping is taking place.

- The law gives us access to a boycott if the regulations on generalization are violated. It is in society's interest to follow the law. But who bears the risk of a possible boycott? Yes, it's us, that. And who bears the burden of proving that the regulation is being broken? It is us, too, emphasizes Skjærvø, who wants a law where the shop stewards will to a greater extent have access to what they need to see in order to be able to follow whether something illegal is happening.

Want the deal extended

In Denmark, the social partners have had a much better dialogue than what we see in Norway. Employers and the trade union movement have a different tradition of paying attention to each other to avoid conflicts.

The discussion about the experience of today's transitional arrangements has started, and one of the first trade unions that has made clear demands on what will happen after May 1, 2006, is 3F.

3F requires that today's agreement continue, and that Denmark extends the agreement to the maximum seven years they have the opportunity. When 3F met last week for a conference on the labor force from the east, the leader Poul Erik Skov Christensen said that today's agreement is an important tool when the migrant job seekers from the east come.

Christensen called for more involvement from employers, which he believes has failed to get involved in the challenges, and instead left everything to the trade union movement.

- I have a suspicion that some had hoped that this challenge was too tough for us, but we have refuted. Now it's time for the employers to join, Christensen said.

3F has made great efforts to ensure a level playing field between Danish workers and foreign workers coming to Denmark. It has succeeded in ensuring that the largest contractors do not take in cheap labor in competition with Danish workers. These companies secure themselves today by making agreements with subcontractors that must guarantee that they do not take in foreign labor under the contractual tariff.

The employers in Dansk Industri believe that they have not let the trade unions take the support, but that they have also taken on the challenges that come. They point out that immigration from new EU countries is quite modest.

- On the contrary, we need access to labor – and very often from Eastern Europe, said a representative of Danish Industry.


It is currently unclear what Norway will do with its transitional rules. Today's rules cannot be continued as they are. The new government gets the case in the lap and has to start the job of figuring out what's going to happen.

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