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Sweden should ban free 'slavery' job trials

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Sweden should ban free 'slavery' job trials
Shopping around for staff is very different to grocery shopping. Photo: Nico Södling/Image Bank Sweden
15:48 CET+01:00
Asking people to participate in unpaid job trials before they are offered full-time employment is a ruthless way to exploit them and the practice should be banished, writes Leif Håkansson from Swedish labour union IF Metall for this week's debate article.
 
"Try working with us for free for a week. We want to see what you've got to offer before we talk about employment."
 
Does it work the same way if I want to try out a new store?
 
"Hey! I want to try shopping for free for a few days to test how good you are. Perhaps I will become a customer afterwards."
 
Job trials are becoming more common. Unscrupulous employment agencies send out trial staff to their clients, so they can see what newcomers have to offer.
 
A job appointment is a business deal. An employer pays money to employees who work. Voluntary, free work for good causes is OK. Involuntary free work that makes someone money is slavery.
 
The less scrupulous employers may argue that free work is voluntary: "You choose if you want to take it." But this approach does not work when unemployment is high. When people do almost anything to be considered for any job.
 
"Hey! I heard that you're a good bank and I am thinking about becoming a customer. But first I want to test out borrowing money for free for a while."
 
I do not think the banks would queue up to have me. Nor grocery stores either if I offered them the same conditions.
 
In a fair society, we should put an end to unfair competition. We should not allow free labour which could give some companies an advantage over competitors who pay wages to their employees. This could damage the reputation of reputable companies.
 
We should not allow some employers to avoid paying insurance because those who work for free are given no insurance coverage at all.
 
Free trial work is a ruthless way to exploit people. Many of those who accept these kind of decisions are dependant on finding work. They are prepared to work for a week without pay or insurance in a small garage, in a café, in a cleaning firm or for an employment agency.
 
In companies with collective agreements there is always a minimum wage and free work is not possible. In other Swedish firms there is no statutory minimum wage and it's not a crime in Sweden to have staff working for free.
 
Perhaps there is a need to change the law to stop this kind of 'employment' or at least to improve communication so that all 'offers' of trial jobs are more visible and transparent. What employers are doing in terms of free labour should be fully in the spotlight. We should refuse to allow them to offer bad conditions for 'staff'. 
 
But above all this should happen alongside efforts to push down unemployment. That is the root of all this evil.
 
Leif Håkansson is lead Ombudsman for Swedish trade union IF Metall. This article is an abridged, translated version of his debate article originally published in the Gothenburg Post.
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