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Minister's labour law comments irk unions
Swedish Migration Minister Tobias Billström in a file photo

Minister's labour law comments irk unions

Sweden's unions are furious at how the country's migration minister has reacted to revelations about abuses related to a new law on labour migration.

Published: 09 Nov 2010 16:23 CET

Unions have long called the legislation "idiotic" and believe migration minister Tobias Billström is out of touch with reality in his understanding of conditions faced by immigrant labourers in Sweden.

"He has shown that he lives in a world where the law is an idea that may perhaps work on paper. It does not look like this in reality," Ella Niia, the chairwoman of the Hotel & Restaurant Workers Union (Hotell och Restaurang Facket) said of Billström to the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.

The dispute comes following recent reports by DN revealing that that the new law on labour migration has led to abuses, such as a black market for work permits and employees working under slave-like contracts who are dependent on their employers to stay in Sweden.

On Monday, the minister promised to re-examine the law, saying he would seek input from the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket), as well as trade unions and employers' associations.

In addition, Billström also pledged to work with the National Tax Agency (Skatteverket), Work Environment Authority (Arbetsmiljöverket) and the police to root out unscrupulous employers who are abusing the labour migration law.

While promising to review the law, Billström also rejected claims that the law provided work permits to workers in sectors where unemployment was already high.

"It's easy to say that people are out of work, but there are also jobs that no one wants," he told DN.

Billström added that clamping down on labour migration wouldn't "suddenly mean that a bunch of people would go out into the forest and pick berries," holding firm that "our principles work well."

"Employers are best able to determine what competence is needed to ensure that a job gets done," he said.

Billström also explained that the law's intention is to help employers find staff with specialised skills, such as Indian chefs.

However, Niia pointed out that those kinds of applications are the furthest from what the unions are receiving.

"We are not opposed to those kinds of employment. However, one does not need to look overseas to find restaurant workers," she said.

Other union representatives reacted angrily to Billström's comments, which came despite a high unemployment rate in the restaurant industry.

"It is questionable whether there really is a need for migrant labour when we have a large amount of available manpower at our doorstep," said Anders Bergsten, ombudsman for union and political issues at the Swedish Building Maintenance Workers' Union (Fastighetsanställdas förbund).

Billström emphasised that anyone who loses his or her job after filing a complaint about abuses has three months to find a new job in Sweden and took into account that many of these workers are afraid, do not speak Swedish and have no other contacts than their employers.

"It is absurd," said Niia.

"The labour market is already tough for Swedes. How can those from other countries dare to protest?"

She added that she hopes Billström will admit that the law was a bad idea.

"He was the one who pushed this law through and he must act now," she said.

The comments didn't sit will with union representatives.

According to Samuel Engblom, lawyer for the TCO union, three adjustments to the current regulations would make it more difficult to deal with work permits: making job offers legally binding, undertaking reviews employer conduct and verifying with the tax authority that employers actually pay the correct salaries and social fees.

The Local/vt (news@thelocal.se)


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