Foreign trade certificates are no help against social dumping
Getting a foreign trade certificate approved in Norway doesn’t do much to help foreign workers, when it comes to pay, working conditions and social dumping.
No matter if they had a trade certificate from their home country — Norway once considered them too unskilled to count.
It has been five years since Norway gave immigrant workers the opportunity to have their background approved as the equivalent of a Norwegian trade certificate or journeyman's certificate.
Now Fafo, an independent social science research foundation, has looked at the scheme, and it turns out that the practical effect has been rather small.
Researchers Rolf K. Andersen, Mona Bråten and Ester Bøckmann have evaluated Norway’s approval scheme for foreign trade and journeyman certificates.
“It has had an effect on people whose education has been approved, but when so few workers have had their work backgrounds approved, it simply can’t have a larger structural effect. We have to make people more familiar with the scheme so that Norway gets more applications,” Rolf K. Andersen says.
The Fafo researchers write in their report that some of the individuals who have had their certificates approved, say they have been paid a higher salary. But the researchers found that they really had the same salary level as people who applied for approval but were rejected.
“We found no strong correlation between the approval of the application and other working conditions,” the report said.
Relatively few reported that they had not being paid according to agreement, or that they had to repay part of their salary. Also few had been given a false employment contract or had been forced to do dangerous work.
However, people whose trade certificate was approved were as likely to experience these problems as often as people whose applications were rejected.
At the top of the labour market
“The fact that there are no noticeable differences is probably because the people who apply for the scheme are at the top of this labour market,” Andersen says.
In other words: The workers who are primarily affected by exploitation, social dumping and other work-related crimes are much less likely to use Norway’s approval scheme.
Nokut — the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education — administers the approval scheme for foreign vocational training.
“I think Nokut has made a good effort. But the purpose for this project has not been to evaluate the approval process itself. We have only looked at the effect on workers of getting approval or not,” Andersen said.
He believes that serious companies will pay well regardless of whether or not a person have had his or her foreign vocational training approved. There are labour shortages, not least in the construction industry. As a consequence, serious employers like to pay good people well above the minimum wage anyway.
Workers feel more secure
Foreign workers reported one positive effect of the approval process: They said they felt more secure in their employment. In contrast, people who have had their approval rejected feel it is more difficult to apply for new jobs after the rejection.
Not many people have been covered by the scheme. Only one in 200 resident migrant workers has had their vocational training approved.
“With such a small number of both applicants and approvals, it will be difficult for the scheme to make a major contribution in preventing social dumping, work-related crime, undeclared work and the other challenges it is intended to help address,” the Fafo researchers wrote in their report.
Hoping for more
Nokut hopes that more foreign workers will apply to have their vocational training from their home country approved. The organization is also working to include more work disciplines in the scheme and to market it better.
“It’s important for us to see how the scheme has been received, since it’s something that different parties from the working world have requested. But we are also aware that not many foreign workers have applied for approval,” says Silje Molander, the section leader who has responsibility for approving foreign vocational training.
“There are many more foreign workers employed in Norway, but we don’t know what kind of formal training they have from their home countries,” she said.
Meat cutters in plus
Molander points out that foreign workers don’t have contact with any system that can help them when they come to Norway, as refugees do. As a consequence, officials know much less about these workers.
She is happy that the scheme has made a big difference for some workers:
“Most of the people who apply to us come from the construction industry, and there they have good agreements. When it comes to food-related employment, workers who have received approval from Nokut have received a skilled worker supplement,” she says.
As an example, she cites meat cutters who work on the assembly line at Norwegian slaughterhouses.
“What is also interesting is that many workers who have been asked about their pay believe that they have received a higher salary due to the approval scheme,” Molander says.
Andersen et.al.: Godkjenningsordningen for utenlandske fag- og svennebrev. Virkninger på arbeidsvilkår (The approval scheme for foreign trade and journeyman certificates. Effects on working conditions) In Norwegian. Fafo Report 2021: 12.
Translated by Nancy Bazilchuk