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).




Wages are of central importance for the assessment of the overall working conditions of Polish labour migrants in Oslo, Copenhagen and Reykjavik, and they have been at the forefront of political debates about the effects of labour migration and of “social dumping”. The willingness of Eastern European workers to accept wages far below the normal standards of the countries they travel to – simply because their alternative options are far worse than for natives – is the most perhaps tangible indicator of the potential gain for employers engaging in social dumping. The purpose of this chapter is to describe the general wage levels received by Polish migrant workers in the three cities and explore factors that are associated with particularly low wages. However, the average wage levels differ considerably between the Nordic countries, with Norway on top with an average wage level double that of Iceland, and with Denmark somewhere in the middle. This has several implications for labour migration. First of all, higher wage levels make countries more attractive as destinations for labour migrants. Second, higher wage levels leave greater scope for wage dumping, because employers can offer terms which are substantially below national standards but still remain attractive to migrants. Third, higher wage levels – and thereby also price levels – increase the migrants’ incentive for trans-border activities, such as temporary and circular mobility, commuting and sending remittances, and at the same time increase the relative fall in economic status experienced by migrants who settle down more permanently. These general differences in wages and price levels between different destination countries are therefore important for understanding the different adaptations of both migrants and employers. In the following we analyse the self-reported wages of the Poles in the three surveys. First we briefly report the average wage levels of the Polish workers in the currencies of the country they work in, as well as the distribution. As the currencies are different between cities, these figures have little comparative value. Therefore, we proceed by computing and reporting measures that make comparison more accessible. This includes measuring the hourly wages in absolute terms (Zloty), in relative terms (in percent of national average wages), and in terms of purchasing power. By applying this approach, we can compare how attractive the different destinations appear as seen from Poland, how Polish migrants are placed within the wage hierarchy of the host labour market, and how profitable work in the different cities is in terms of the absolute living standards it can provide. We then proceed to analyse the specific wage levels within the construction industry in the three cities, in order to get a better grip on how the wages of Polish migrants are related to specific industry standards. We perform this final analysis for the construction industry only because the other sector categories we are using are much more heterogeneous and constructed in a way that makes it very difficult to obtain data on general industry standards to compare with. Table 2.4 reports the average, minimum and maximum wages found in the three cities.


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