Stoltenberg under fire over foreign workers

Norwegian unemployment has never been lower and joblessness among its immigrant communities and foreign workers is lower than elsewhere in Europe, a harried Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told parliamentarians on Wednesday.

Stoltenberg under fire over foreign workers
Photo: Kjetil Ree (File)

Despite the assurances, opposition party leaders and labour and integration committee members were steadfast in their attacks on Norwegian labour policy. Amid calls for greater acceptance for foreign workers' skills, a succession of labour policy critics suggested workers be allowed to take their trade certification tests in English.

“We’re open to all ideas toward the better integration of foreign workers in the country,” Stoltenberg said.

The prime minister said 8,000 new jobs had been created so far this year. A dramatic increase in the number of foreign workers in recent years hasn’t swelled the figure.

The opposition, however, pointed to worrying signs of continued “social dumping”, cases of employers paying foreigners far below industry norms. One opposition leader cited the case of a Polish-speaking lawyer who had won all 70 of his labour violation trials on behalf of Poles plying the Norwegian market.

Whatever the evidence, Stoltenberg’s mid-morning address to parliament rounded out with an assertion that unemployment among newcomers to Norway was lower than corresponding figures in all other countries. He said the focus of his government would be helping Norwegians into the job market, an effort he said would trickle down to foreign workers.

“We want job market integration,” he said, adding, “We don’t want social dumping.”

Parliament’s own Labour Committee has pointed out that 125,000 foreigners, or about half the foreign workforce, still endure “consistently low incomes”. Committee members have proposed a 10-year focus on integrating foreign labour. 

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Norway posts record number of vacant job listings

A record number of openings have been listed on the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration’s (NAV) job portal this year.

The job market in Norway is recovering from the pandemic quicker than expected according to Holte. Pictured is two employee's going over some paperwork
The job market in Norway is recovering from the pandemic quicker than expected according to Holte. Pictured is two employee's going over some paperwork. Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

Job vacancies on NAV’s job portal, are at record numbers already this year, with two months of 2021 still to go. 

So far this year, around 433,000 jobs have been listed on the portal, surpassing the figure for pre-pandemic 2019. 

“Already now, at the end of September, we have even more vacancies through this year so far than we had throughout 2019,” Hans Christian Holte, director of Nav, told public broadcaster NRK

NAV estimates that by the end of the year, well over 500,000 vacancies will have been registered in 2021. 

Some industries stand out in particular when it comes to the demand for labour. Tourism and catering, daycare, sales and health sciences are all areas with significant demand for workers, according to NAV’s director.

Holte rejected the idea that Norwegians may be too picky about the types of jobs they are willing to take as a partial explanation for the vacancies. He instead said it was about people having the necessary skills. 

READ ALSO: Five essential things to know for anyone working in Norway

In addition, he also said that the job market had recovered from the pandemic much quicker than expected. 

“We see that unemployment, in general, is back to the level it was before the pandemic. We actually expected this to happen next year,” he said. 

One trend concerning Holte is the rise in long-term unemployment in Norway. According to the NAV director, the number of people who have been unemployed for between one-and-a-half to two years has more than doubled since last year. 

“This is perhaps the biggest concern I have right now – there are the many who have been out of work for a long time. Maybe there are special reasons for it, such as gaps in the CV, language challenges, or health-related things. Norwegian society must now be good and help them back into working life,” he explained.