Labour pains

Every day at least 6,000 illegal immigrants in Sweden are working for "slave wages", according to a new study from the Red Cross.

Often cleaning, washing dishes or babysitting, the immigrants are usually exploited by someone from their own country who has already established a network of companies and private individuals, explained Svenska Dagbladet. Their pay ranges from zero to twenty crowns per hour.

“If they contact anyone in the community the employer threatens to report them to the police,” said Victor Cifuentes, at the Red Cross in Stockholm. “The fear of being caught and deported means that these refugees keep silent and allow themselves to be exploited.”

Ingeborg Sevastik, vice chairman of the national board of refugee groups, told SvD that the problem is getting worse – despite the introduction in July of a law specifically prohibiting forced employment.

“This problem has escalated and is becoming increasingly serious. Refugees come here, apply for asylum, get rejected and disappear. Unfortunately they can’t get any other job.”

Perhaps they could start by changing their names. According to research carried out by Dagens Nyheter, “every fifth job is closed to young men with Arabic names”, with the worst sector being the restaurant industry.

For seven weeks, four of DN’s student reporters posed as jobseekers. One reporter with a Swedish name and one with an Arabic name – but otherwise with the same qualifications – called each of 366 jobs and asked if it was worth their while applying.

In a third of the cases, both the Swede and the Swede-with-a-foreign-background were told not to bother applying. But in 36 cases, Rebin or Hakim were rejected over the phone while Linus or Fredrik were encouraged to apply. On only five occasions did the opposite happen.

Therefore, concluded DN, even at the enquiry stage there is a ‘discrimination rate of 13%.

“Men with Arabic names are discriminated against in the labour market,” said the paper. “Rebin, who has a slight accent but speaks excellent Swedish, was turned away more often than Hakim, who does not speak with an accent.”

But the telephone research only tells half the story. As Anders Westholm, a lecturer in political science at Uppsala University, told DN, other international studies show that discrimination continues at the CV and interview stage.

“If DN had gone further into the recruitment process, the discrimination quota would in all probability have risen from around 13% to over 20%.”

When DN contacted the recruiters who seemed to display the most blatant discrimination, the reaction was – without wishing to be sucked into the spiral of racial stereotyping – typically Swedish.

“Yes, maybe it’s unreasonable,” admitted restaurant manager Ola Håkansson, who told Rebin that the job was taken – less than half an hour after telling Linus that he would welcome his application.

“Or actually, maybe I answered wrongly in the first call,” he added. “Yes, I should have told him the job was taken too.”

And Björn Kromm, the manager of building store K-Rauta, professed himself to be shocked on being informed that Rebin had been told he didn’t have the necessary qualifications while Fredrik – who described himself over the phone in the same terms – was told to apply.

“Extremely interesting and disturbing,” he said, before going on to defend the woman who was handling the recruitment process.

“I’m quite certain it wasn’t conscious. She was stressed and misunderstood Rebin’s qualifications.”

But if all that makes the Swedish labour market sound somewhat unwelcoming, don’t worry – because it’s not. As a matter of fact, it’s the finest, friendliest, fluffiest labour market in the world. And everyone’s happy.

A new report from the International Labour Organisation has ranked countries according to ‘economic security’ as a measure of which has the best climate for workers.

“We’re top of the list when factors such as income levels and security, union activity and promotion opportunities are compared,” declared Monday’s Svenska Dagbladet.

“Put simply, Sweden’s employees are the happiest in the world.”

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet