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Opinion: Low-paid jobs for foreigners aren’t the solution to an unequal labour market

A scheme aiming to give more foreigners a 'fast-track' into the Swedish job market is more problematic than it seems, and ignores many of the issues non-Swedes face on the job market, writes The Local reader Princess Jimenez in this opinion piece.

Opinion: Low-paid jobs for foreigners aren't the solution to an unequal labour market
The 'etableringsjobb' would see newcomers offered a job and training, for a lower than average salary. File photo: Moa Karlberg/imagebank.sweden.se

Starting this summer, the government of Sweden is implementing a new policy, the so-called etableringsjobb or 'establishment job'.

Under this policy, a new low-income category will be created for newly arrived immigrants (as well as for long-term unemployed people), who will receive substantially reduced salaries, the lowest allowed by the collective agreements, as a means of getting them “established in the workforce”. This plan is supported by unions, employers' organizations and the Swedish government.

It’s being sold as a way of helping newcomers get a foothold in the Swedish job market, receiving training and experience while their salaries are partly subsidized by the state. However, no matter how it is presented, it does not stop this scheme from been problematic. In fact, one could say that it’s straightforwardly racist. Why? Because using laws, structures and institutions to discriminate against groups of people based on their origin is racist.

This scheme is tailored with very elaborate language to make it look positive, but it hides questionable practices.

Newly-arrived people will participate in the programme regardless of education, experience, training, or language skills. They are often going to be paid less than a Swede for doing similar work, and employers may take advantage of the scheme, turning jobs that would otherwise be fully paid into lower-waged ones, and create a new category of underpaid jobs where membership is based on ethnicity. The lowest level allowed by collective agreements will be almost always thousands of kronor less than the salary a Swede would receive for the same work.

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Photo: Berit Roald/NTB/TT

By giving discrimination a legal and legitimizing platform, the government is helping to normalize treating immigrants as if they are worth less in Swedish society. 

It is worth considering whether this policy contravenes the Swedish constitution and EU law. According to chapter 2, paragraph 12 of the Swedish constitution, no law or other directive is allowed to put someone at a disadvantage because the person is part of a minority in terms of ethnic origin, skin color, or other similar condition. In the EU, anti-discrimination laws clearly prohibit discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin.

The main reason why many foreigners, and indeed many non-white Swedes, have a hard time finding jobs in Sweden is discrimination.

HAVE YOUR SAY: How good is Sweden for international talent?

Minorities in Sweden, especially black people, already make less money than white Swedes. In 2018 a report on discrimination in the Swedish labour market by the Centre of Multidisciplinary Studies of Racism and Uppsala University found that black people in Sweden make less money than their white counterparts. Researchers also found black workers are more likely to be unemployed for longer periods of time regardless of their education, receive lower average salaries than white people with similar jobs and qualifications, and tend to be in jobs for which they are overqualified.

Six out of ten unemployed people in Sweden come from non-European countries, which means that in addition to recent arrivals, immigrants will make up the majority of the long-term unemployed group that will also be part of the etableringsjobb scheme.

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Pushing minorities to the outskirts of society has proven to not only hurt those minorities affected by institutionalized racism, but also the rest of society.

It creates segregation, poverty, it normalizes aggressive forms of racism, and it creates distrusts in institutions. In a 2018 survey from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Sweden ranked 8th of countries with the highest perceived racist violence against people of African descent in Europe.

A survey commissioned by The Living History Forum in 2017 showed that almost half of Swedes said they think racism will grow in the coming year. The policy of etableringsjobb is just part of a trend whereby racism is normalized. What Sweden needs is to go the extreme opposite direction; to create civil rights institutions which will use legal and institutional frameworks to protect minorities from discrimination, instead of using taxpayers’ money to sponsor unfair policies.

From the centuries-long bigoted state-sponsored violence against the Samis, Jewish, Finnish, Roma people and Travellers, to the participation of Sweden in the colonization of Congo, the creation of eugenics institutions, and the open and shameless discrimination of black Swedes and immigrants in the Swedish job market; the history of racism in Sweden is long and complex.

But we cannot allow Sweden to go back to a discourse where we think it is acceptable to even consider paying lower salaries to a group based on their origin. Racism affects us all, it weakens institutions and our society’s ability of coexistence, and we all must work together and be vigilant in order to stop structural racism in our nation.

Princess Jimenez moved to Stockholm, Sweden in 2018 and has a Special Education degree. Some of her interests are social sciences, politics, drag queens, memes, and heavy metal. You can follow her on Twitter here.


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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Sweden’s second city is the site of Scandinavia’s largest urban development project. But there is rising concern that the costs outweigh the benefits, says David Crouch

Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Last week, residents in the area of Fågelsången (birdsong), a quiet street at the very heart of Sweden’s second city, woke up to read the following news: “Explosions at Fågelsången: On August 8, week 32, we start blasting around Fågelsången and are expected to be done by week 40. When blasting, for safety reasons, no one is allowed to go out, open their windows or be within the blasting area. We will work weekdays 7am to 5pm.” 

Blasting deep holes in the granite – along with sprawling roadworks – has been the reality for central Gothenburgers for the past four years, as a vast rail tunnel is being dug to link the current terminus with other parts of the city and enable smoother connections with other routes. The aim is to triple rail passenger numbers and eliminate traffic jams on the main road through the city, at a cost of 20 billion crowns (€1.9 billion).

This railway, known as Västlänken (the West Link), is not the only big construction project in the city centre. It is just the largest element in a gigantic scheme to revive the docks area along the river, which was destroyed by a global shipping crisis in the 1970s. The great rusting cranes opposite the opera house and the disused Eriksberg gantry are an important aspect of Gothenburg’s skyline and self-image. The areas on the north bank were also home to many recent immigrants and a byword for poverty. The city’s mayor famously, and shamefully, referred to it as “the Gaza strip”.

So in 2012 the city launched an ambitious plan. Christened Älvstaden, the RiverCity, municipal investment aimed to build an attractive, modern waterfront while creating tens of thousands of homes and jobs. It is by far the Nordic region’s biggest urban regeneration project. A YouTube video commissioned by the city authorities a few years later neatly sums up both the breathtaking scope of this vision and the exciting / brutal (choose your own adjective here) nature of the transformation it would bring: 

The RiverCity revolved around two flagship projects: a new bridge over the river, the Hisingsbron (Hisingen Bridge), combined with major new office developments right in the centre; and Karlatornet, Sweden’s tallest skyscraper, which would literally tower over Gothenburg like a beacon of modernity in a city that traditionally has had strict rules against high-rise buildings. 

Add to all this a proposed high-speed rail link with Stockholm, and you have a recipe for quite spectacular urban upheaval involving billions of tons of steel and concrete. Visit Gothenburg today and much of the city seems to have been turned into a building site. There is a forest of cranes, while smart new office blocks puncture the skyline – a genuine metamorphosis is under way.

But many Gothenburgers are either uneasy or downright unhappy. The RiverCity is a vanity project to gentrify the docklands, they say. Karlatornet’s 73 stories of luxury apartments will be a scar on the landscape and a symbol of Gothenburg’s new love affair with finance and real estate, a slap in the face for the city’s proud industrial values. Västlänken is a vit elefant, a costly project that will deliver questionable benefits, many believe.  

Opposition to Västlänken was such that a new political party, the Democrats, took 17 percent of the vote in 2018 with its headline demand to stop the project immediately. This caused a revolution in local politics, overturning decades of Social Democrat rule. 

And now the gloss on these big-ticket construction projects is starting to fade. Karlatornet was the first to run into trouble. For most of 2020 building work was at a standstill, raising the threat that this flagship of regeneration would be nothing more than an unfinished stump, after American financiers pulled out of the project. The new Hisingen Bridge is open to traffic, but its construction was fraught with setbacks and the final cost to the taxpayer is still unknown. “There has been an awareness from the start that this was a high-risk project,” one of the project’s bosses said ominously this spring.

RiverCity is more than two billion kronor over budget, and facing accusations of mismanagement that evoke Gothenburg’s old nickname of Muteborg, or Bribetown, after a proliferation of municipal companies in the 1970s led to conflicts of interest, with politicians sitting on company boards. Opponents of the scheme argue that in any case it is unlikely to solve any of the city’s fundamental problems, such as the ethnic segregation that has created immigrant ghettos in outlying suburbs.  

In May, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published leaked minutes from Västlänken management meetings in which one of the main contractors on the project said it would be delivered billions over budget and four years later than its official 2026 deadline – in other words, four more years of earth-shattering explosions, roadblocks and associated upheaval. With local elections only months away, the Democrats have taken out advertisements on billboards and in local media demanding that top politicians tell the truth about what is going on. For opponents of the scheme, this is exactly what they have warned of all along

Next June, Gothenburg will officially celebrate its 400th anniversary, postponed from 2021 because of the pandemic. Visitors will experience a city on the move, with pristine new motorways and sparkling office blocks. So for Gothenburg’s urban planners, there is light at the end of the development tunnel. In the case of Västlänken, however, they will be hoping that the light is indeed that of an oncoming train. 

David Crouch has lived in Gothenburg for nine years. He is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It, a freelance journalist and lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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