The number of social dumping cases is increasing in Denmark. Romanians are part of this phenomenon and after 100 years of diplomatic relations, a new agreement is to be made between the two countries.
By Alexandra Tămășan and Călina Mureșan
According to Henning Overgaard, the Federal Secretary of 3F (The United Federation of Danish Workers), a bilateral agreement for reducing social dumping, between the Ministry of Labor in Romania and 3F in Denmark, is going to be made soon. Which is a step forward, giving the fact that 3F registered an increasing number of social dumping cases.
Leaving their home country in search for work in a better place in Europe is nothing new for the Romanian society. Even if Denmark is not the first choice, given its reputation of being an expensive country, today there are over 16.000 Romanians currently employed within Danish borders, according to Statistics Denmark.
The Romanian workforce in Denmark is mostly concentrated in the agriculture sector, construction business, transport and service industry. Incidentally, these are the sectors with most social dumping cases.
Marius Che came to work in Denmark in December last year. After two weeks of working on a construction site, he realized that things weren’t going to be as they were promised in the beginning.
“I was called there to do the brickwork for a building. I was offered 200 Kroner (kr.) per hour, and a place to stay. Food was also included,” says Marius. 200 kr. amounts to 120 Ron.
One side of social dumping is when foreigners come and work in a country with a salary lower than natives having the same job. According to EU standards, whether someone is a national or not, that person has to have the same working conditions and a salary according to the standards of the country they work in.
In search for greener pastures
Marius found this job opportunity through a Romanian acquaintance.
“He told me he worked together with a cousin for this Polish guy in Denmark, and they had no complaints about him. So, I thought, why not give it a try?”
But when he arrived, the masonry job he came for seemed to morph into anything but masonry.
“I laid foundation, made reinforced concrete, drove a backhoe loader, drove a mini excavator – things that weren’t specified at all in the job description. There was some masonry, all right, somewhere during the middle of the project, but that was to be much later,” Marius reminisced.
According to LO – the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions, social dumping is not just about payment, it is also about working conditions and the safety provided at the workplace. To hire one person, on a fixed salary, that does the work of more people, is a sure way to save money.
Involving the authorities
After two weeks of work, as the deal between Marius and his employer was, Marius received his salary.
“The guy comes to me with a sum of 60 kr. an hour. I was outraged! Especially since he promised me something else and I far exceeded my attributions I was hired for. So, I left; but not before I got paid, even with those 60 kr.,” he narrates.
There are many people who stay for those 60 kr. per hour – in Romania it amounts to four times the minimum wage.
After the entire blunder, Marius denounced his employer to the police in Copenhagen. But the area he had been working in wasn’t under their jurisdiction. On the other hand, Marius never had a working contract and he wasn’t registered in the Danish system, so there wasn’t much that he could do. According to the Danish law, he was there for two weeks as a tourist.
“The guy said he will make me a contract after the two weeks probation period. One of the guys working with me said he received a contract after two and a half months. I had no interest in working illegally.”
If someone finds himself in a social dumping situation, both the Copenhagen Municipality and the Trade Unions agree on one thing: one of the Trade Unions should be contacted.
Lisbeth Kjær Thomsen, Head of Division, Centre for Finance, Lord Mayors Department of Copenhagen Municipality, adds that besides the Trade Unions, one could contact the Copenhagen Municipality, if the case is within the Copenhagen area.
“We have a hotline. Right now, we work with an external team that go and check the reported situation. Starting next year, you can directly call our own in-house team. If you are afraid of losing your job, then you can simply leave an anonymous tip,” she details.
Beyond unskilled workers
In contrast to Marius, Andrei Ciucă, a qualified engineer, came to Denmark in 2014 and he is still living here. He agreed to tell his story, but due to a confidentiality clause in his contract, he couldn’t give details about his workplace.
Employee becomes employer
Inside an under-construction apartment in Holte, north of Copenhagen area, on Saturday, with paint dust floating around and scraping sounds coming from a room in the back, Johnny tells his story.
Ionuț Haralambie, aka Johnny, came to Denmark two years ago. He first started as an employee in a warehouse, and now he owns JH Nordisk Service, a small construction company. He didn’t come because he needed money. According to him, he was doing ok. He used to have 3 companies back in Romania over the last 10 years. But, as he says, he was tired of how things usually work in the Romanian system, so he moved to Denmark – the happiest country in the world.
Johnny recalls that the first two months after he arrived in Denmark he did nothing. He just sat and studied how the system here works, dealt with registration paperwork, and looked for a job.
“The first thing that hits you when you come here is to try and integrate into the Danish society. When you come here and you have absolutely nothing, it is very difficult to integrate. Especially if you don’t know the language,” was one of Johnny’s first impressions.
One of the first pieces of advice LO offers to anyone who comes to Denmark to work, is to get informed prior to their arrival. Finding out about the Danish social and labour systems, the Trade Unions, and what one has to do in order to be here legally. A good idea would be to contact the Trade Union responsible for the sector covering that particular job. For example, 3F would be excellent for unskilled workers who seek employment. The advice is reinforced by H.E. Alexandru Grădinar, the Romanian Ambassador in Copenhagen.
“So, I went to a recruiting firm. There are two such big firms: Profil Match and Team Vikaren. They place workers in warehouses or factories, and most Romanians that come here – actually most immigrants that come here, no matter their nationality – with no knowledge of Danish language and no friends to recommend them anywhere, go to them,” Johnny continues.
In the beginning Johnny worked in such a warehouse as a forklift driver.
“I worked there for 3 or 4 months. It felt… weird. Everyone there is an immigrant, coming from all over the world. And when you look at them and get to know them, you realize that most of them left their home country because they really had nothing. I mean, comparing to that, in Romania we have it pretty good. If you compare how much they earn in their country with how much they earn in Denmark, they feel like they struck gold. They do anything and everything because they are the happiest. And they want nothing more,” he recalls.
From the Trade Unions point of view, it is perfectly understandable that someone comes to Denmark from a country with lower living standards.
“Even if a worker accepts to work for less, it is still a matter of social dumping. Of course, you would say yes to a job that is higher paid, or to something that actually is a job. The Trade Unions try to fight both for your sake, and against people who bend and abuse the rules to unfairly compete against the majority of the employers in Denmark who are abiding by the rules,” the LO representative says.
According to Johnny, there is an advantage to contact those recruiting agencies: they help you get hired under a work contract.
“If you are a hard worker, they could make the contract starting with the first day. You need two contracts before you can say you are settled in Denmark: a job contract and a house contract. Once you have the job contract, a house contract is sure to follow. And that’s that. You are in the system. And it’s perfect. Now all you have to do is pay your taxes. They don’t really care how much you earn as an immigrant. As long as you pay your taxes, it is convenient to have as many workers as they could get. The Danish system works for Danish people. And I do believe is an ok system; for them. But for immigrants in general, the system is not that good.”
Regarding taxes, Isabella Biletta, the Research manager in the Working Life Unit at Eurofund (The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions) says that social dumping is not only about remuneration, but also social contribution. The lower the wage, the lower the amount of tax you pay.
“I started my own construction company a little over a year now. I work together with my 6 employees, all Romanian. I like to help our own if I am able to. It wasn’t very difficult to start the company – after all, a new company means paying taxes. I am happy, the Danish authorities are happy, and everything is ok,” Johnny ends his story.
From local to national to European
The Copenhagen Municipality is getting more involved in reducing the social dumping cases in the area. They are organizing and internal team that will be fully operational starting next year. Lisbeth Kjaer, Head of Department dealing with social dumping inside the Copenhagen Municipality, says:
“We think an internal team will be a much better choice, both financially and for a better coordination with our social dumping experts we already have. The team’s role will be to be out in the field, verifying complaints, get in contact with both the workers and the employers, performing checks and monitoring what is happening.”
LO emphasizes that the number of workers from the eastern-European countries hired under conditions that are totally “unacceptable within Danish eyes”, is increasing.
“It’s mostly bad for the workers who come here, and also bad for the Danish workers who have to compete with foreign workers. We don’t want people undermining the salaries and working conditions that we generally accept in Denmark as reasonable,” states the LO representative.
The Trade Unions approach the fight against social dumping on three levels.
First level is to work closely with the law-makers and the Danish authorities – like police or tax authorities – to set some rules and regulations about how things should work in the labour market.
The second way is to work together. Meaning that representatives of Trade Unions gather every two weeks and discuss the situations that arose and decide what collective action to take to solve them.
The final approach would be at the European Union level – to influence the EU to make more rules.
“EU is the body that sets the rules and regulations for workers that travel across borders, internally in the EU. But when it comes to tax, exceptions, or other things, it could be a bilateral agreement. We don’t deal bilaterally when it comes to rules regarding workers, that is part of the common market in the EU,” explains the LO source.
Social dumping is high on the European Union’s agenda. Through the European Pillar on Social Rights presented on the 26th of April this year, the Commission encourages Member States to work to improve their social standards in order to create a fair and well-functioning labour market. One such example of improving would be setting adequate minimum wages.
“If living standards were less divergent across Member States, there would be no reason for so many workers of low-wage countries to develop their professional careers in a high-wage country, or for companies of high-wage countries to hire workers from low-wage countries,” says a Commission official.
Danish model over minimum wage
Isabella from Eurofound explains that “in Denmark you don’t have a minimum wage; it is collectively agreed. To find a solution against social dumping, it is very important to respect and take into picture the way collective agreement and social dialogue is organized in Denmark.”
“The idea of a minimum wage is good enough to have at least a discussion on it. But then again, a minimum wage is a minimum. The employers and unions can still decide what they want,” she adds.
Lisbeth from Copenhagen Municipality believes that the Danish Model will remain:
“It would certainly be much easier if the Parliament would make a minimum wage, but in Denmark we have this Danish Model where the Trade Unions negotiate with the Employers’ Association, setting a minimum pay for a specific sector. I think the Trade Unions want to continue this model.”
The Unions agree with Lisbeth, indeed: “The employers always want to pay as little as possible, and the employee wants to get as much as he can; so a minimum wage would be seen as a more perfect equilibrium between the two points of view. But, for Danish people, a politically decided minimum wage system would be a huge step back compared to the system we are having now.”
H.E. Alexandru Grădinar, the Ambassador of Romania to the Kingdom of Denmark, states that Romania wants to work closer together with Danish authorities in the labour and social fields in order to ensure that the rights of Romanian workers in Denmark are respected, regardless if they are directly hired, or detached.