‘Labour migration helps Swedish firms compete’

Swedish companies need to keep the power to hire foreign workers, argues Karin Ekenger of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv), who fears a return to letting government agencies and unions determine who can work in Sweden will hurt firms' ability to compete globally.

'Labour migration helps Swedish firms compete'
Labour migration helps Swedish firms compete

That Sweden’s main trade union confederation, LO, wants to return to a system where government agencies and unions, rather than employers, determine who can work in Sweden is nothing new. But LO’s approach is inconsistent with the conditions governing the Swedish economy. We are a small country in a globalized world, and thus strongly dependent on both the free trade and open borders. Labour migration, therefore, makes it possible for Swedish companies to compete in the global arena.

The proposal from LO of a mandatory labour market assessment means that large occupational groups will be prevented from coming here to work. But according to the law, employers must pay foreign workers who are granted work permits in Sweden at least the same salary, give them the same conditions, and the same assurances as those enshrined in Swedish collective wage agreements or what is considered common industry practice. What then, does LO have against people employed in Sweden under those conditions? There is no government official or trade union representative who can better know what a business’s needs are and who is best suited to fill them than employers themselves. This is true irrespective of industry.

Obviously, it is important that the rules are followed and that pay and other conditions are the same as others in the Swedish labour market; it’s important not only for the individuals who choose to come to Sweden, but also for our member companies who otherwise would suffer from unfair competition. But the solution is not, as LO wants, a return to giving government authorities the power to review employers’ hiring decisions. Instead, what is needed is increased cooperation among public agencies, not only when it comes to pre-employment checks, as the case today, but especially when it comes to post-hiring checks, as well as increased powers to sanction employers that don’t comply.

There are difficulties associated with making employment offers legally binding, as LO wants to see. In the context of Swedish conditions, it’s very unusual to write binding contracts as long as eight to ten months in advance. A lot can happen during that time that can justify deviations in the original offer, deviations that are allowed within the framework of applicable collective agreements and standard industry practice. For example, a forestry planting in the north depends on when the ground has thawed, something that is difficult to predict accurately far enough in advance.

However, we share LO’s perception that it should be easier to get permanent residency in Sweden and that the need to maintain ties to one’s first employer and the sector be removed. The latter strengthens an individual worker’s ability to change employer if he or she isn’t satisfied with their working conditions.

It’s also obvious that the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) needs to work on cutting processing times for non-certified companies, which most are, and something many companies currently point to as a major obstacle.

Karin Ekenger works with labour market and labour migration issues with the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv), Sweden’s largest business federation representing 49 member organizations and 60,000 member companies.

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Swedish employer ‘tore up my application’ at job fair

A representative for a major Swedish company is accused of having ripped up an asylum seeker's job application in front of his face after he asked her to speak Swedish more slowly.

Swedish employer 'tore up my application' at job fair
Abdullah Al-Moadhen while studying in Donetsk, Ukraine. Photo:Private
Abdullah Al-Moadhen, who qualified as a doctor in Ukraine shortly before coming to Sweden in 2015, was visiting the Orkla Foods stall at a job fair in October, hoping he could adapt his medical training to food safety, when the company's representative lost patience with him and seized his application form. 
“She tore it up and threw it on the ground,” he told the Local. “I felt sad and disappointed and depressed. I don't know why she treated me like this. I've spoken to a lot of companies and given my CV to them, and they've all treated me perfectly well, except for Orkla.” 
Al-Moadhen has now made a formal complaint to Sweden's Discrimination Ombudsman (DO) on the advice of the Swedish state employment service. 
According to Al-Moadhen, the altercation began when he asked the company's representative to help explain a section on their application form, and she refused. 
“She said 'this is an elementary question, why are you asking me?'” Al-Moadhen said. 
She then began to speak Swedish so rapidly that Al-Moadhen, who has taught himself Swedish as he is not eligible for free government-funded tuition, could not follow her. 
“I said in Swedish, 'OK, can you speak Swedish slowly? I don't understand if you speak quickly'. And then she said, “In our factory, we don't need people who need Swedish spoken slowly.”
Al-Moadhen felt this was rude and told her so. “I said, 'look, if you say that people will get disappointed'.  And then she ripped up my application paper and threw it on the floor.”  
After this the representative told him to leave the job fair, but he refused telling her that she had no right to ask that as it was a public place. 
Cecilia Franck, Orkla's head of press, said the company was trying to better understand what took place before responding to DO. 
“No one should experience discrimination in contact with us,” she said. “As soon as we got the information from DO about how this person experienced the situation, we started an internal investigation to get the whole picture of what really happened.” 
“Hearing his version makes us concerned, but we need to get the whole picture before we can respond to DO. It wouldn't be fair otherwise.” 
Al-Moadhen is currently trying to pass the language and proficiency tests needed to start practising medicine in Sweden, but is having to study medical terminology alone, as Eslöv municipality where he lives has told him that it lacks the resources to provide specialist medical language training. 
He took a medical proficiency test in September, but failed. 
“Everything we studied for six years, you need to study again in the Swedish language. I have to read all my diploma, and all my six years, I have to study in Swedish.”