Labour migrants from Central and Eastern Europe in the Nordic countries

Patterns of migration, working conditions and recruitment practices

image of Labour migrants from Central and Eastern Europe in the Nordic countries

This report presents the results from a project that has aimed to generate new comparative knowledge about labour migration from Central and Eastern Europe to the Nordic countries, the factors that shape wage and working conditions for labour migrants and recruitment processes and practices. In the report we:

- Describe and compare patterns of labour migration between Central and Eastern Europe and the Nordic countries.

- Compare the working conditions of Polish labour migrants in in Oslo, Copenhagen and Reykjavik – and analyse how their labour market situation is shaped by variations in national regulations, systems of collective bargaining and local labour market structures.

- Analyse the particular role of recruitment agencies in introducing new migrants to the Nordic labour markets.

The research has been conducted by a team of researchers from Fafo (Norway), FAOS (Denmark), CIRRA/MIRRA (Iceland), CMR (Poland) and SOFI (Sweden).



Precarious working conditions

In the sociological literature on work, the concept of precariousness – defined as employment that is uncertain, unpredictable and risky from the point of view of the worker – has become a central concept describing developments in parts of modern industrial labour markets over the last few decades (Kalleberg 2008). This concept can also be useful for describing certain aspects of the employment situation for many recent labour migrants, which may be considered to be problematic in the Nordic labour market. Precarious working conditions may be defined in a variety of ways, and it is difficult to create any single measure which captures different aspects of uncertainty and risk in employment. In this chapter we will try to measure precariousness along three closely interrelated dimensions. First of all, we can relate precariousness to lack of protection from dismissal and fear of losing one’s job. Workers who do not have a permanent contract are obviously in a much weaker position vis-a-vis their employers and do not enjoy the same protection against dismissal as workers with a permanent contract. As we saw in chapter five, as few as 26% of the Polish migrants in Oslo, and 36% of Polish migrants in Copenhagen, but as much as 80% of the Poles in Reykjavik, had regular permanent contracts with a host country firm. However, there are also other more direct – and more acute – ways of measuring the uncertainty which workers may experience, for example if they fear that they will get in serious trouble with their employers or lose their job if they talk to labour authorities or trade unions, or if they actually have received threats of dismissal from ones employer. Precariousness can also be related to the payment of wages. For example, workers may in reality receive lower wages than their direct hourly payment would indicate because they are cheated at some point. For example they may not get compensated for overtime work or they may in some other way be barred from receiving their entitled wages. If that is the case, our questions regarding the migrant’s direct hourly wages may not give an encompassing picture of their real wages. Even if being cheated out of pay that one is entitled to does not necessarily have a huge impact on one’s overall earnings, employers who arbitrarily can withhold parts of the workers’ wages represents a form of uncertainty related to income. Finally, precariousness in the workplace may be related to workers inability to claim rights that they are entitled to either from their employers or from the public welfare system. This is for example the case for workers who lack a written contract, and thereby do not have any legal protection from arbitrary treatment. Another measure is their ability to claim sick leave with pay in case they fall ill – a social right which all workers in the Nordic countries are entitled to by law, but which in reality may be difficult to claim for some workers. To sum up, precariousness is related to lack of stability, security and control in ones employment situation rather than lack of income. In this chapter we will measure and compare the prevalence of precarious, exploitative and illegal working conditions. We do this by comparing the respondents’ answers to several different questions about whether or not they had experienced different kinds of situations at work in the host country, and their evaluation of their own situation.


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