Social partners and government sign agreement on integration of immigrants
In late May 2002, the Danish social partners and municipalities concluded an agreement with the government on stronger measures to integrate immigrants and refugees into the labour market. The accord establishes a three-stage integration procedure, involving work experience and training as a preparation for normal employment. The context is that large numbers of immigrants and refugees are outside the labour market at a time when labour shortages are looming.
On 24 May 2002, the social partners and the municipalities concluded an important agreement with the government on the strengthening of integration measures on the Danish labour market. The Danish labour market is currently characterised by a generally high level of employment but, at the same time, by disproportionately low employment rates among immigrants, newly arrived refugees and new immigrants coming to Denmark to be reunited with family members. About 50% of all refugees and immigrants from 'third countries' (ie countries outside the EU, the Nordic countries and North America) are outside the labour force.
This question has been the subject of debate many times over the past few years, and after a new coalition government of the Liberal Party (Venstre) and the Conservative People's Party (Det Konservative Folkeparti) took office in November 2001 (DK0112147F), new restrictions were expected. New stricter rules were introduced shortly afterwards (DK0203103F) and, in continuation of the public debate about the labour market integration of immigrants, the Confederation of Danish Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO) and the Danish Employers' Confederation (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA) came up with a joint proposal which on several points did away with former bureaucratic restrictions and barriers to effective integration (DK0201166F). This proposal forms part of the content of the new agreement.
An active start
The May 2002 agreement - or 'common conclusion paper', as it is called - focuses on a rapid introduction to working life for immigrants and on learning the Danish language.
In the future, asylum-seekers will be required to work at asylum centres. If they hold qualifications for which there is a current need in the Danish labour market, they may obtain a 'green card' to allow them to find employment. Measures to clarify the competences held by immigrants will be strengthened, and it will be decided at an early stage what further competence development is required. At the same time, the focus will be on immigrants' and refugees' own responsibility for their integration.
The activities of the municipalities in this area will be targeted on the labour market from day one after the arrival of immigrants and refugees in Denmark, and their activities will in future be 'benchmarked'. Teaching of the Danish language will be organised in a more flexible manner and national standards will be fixed for the skills in Danish which must be attained during the integration phase. The labour market-related part of the integration phase will be transferred to the 'social coordination committees' (which include social partner representatives) that already deal with employment policy measures.
Labour market integration
According to the new model established by the agreement, the labour market integration programme for new arrivals will fall into three phases:
- workplace introduction/practical work experience;
- workplace training/introduction to ordinary employment; and
- ordinary employment
It will decided on the basis of an individual assessment whether a person has to undergo all three phases.
Phase 1 – workplace introduction
A system of introduction to the workplace for immigrants will be set up by statute. The details are as follows:
- individuals undergoing workplace introduction will not be under an employment contract and will receive an individual allowance from the municipal authorities to support them. The aim is to introduce the newly arrived person to a Danish workplace, but not that the person concerned will participate in work during this phase;
- during the introduction programme, lessons in Danish will be organised so that the people concerned can fit into the daily life of the enterprise. The Danish lessons and workplace introduction periods will have a weekly duration corresponding to a standard working week of 30-37 hours;
- the length of the workplace introduction phase will be set by agreement. It may be up to 13 weeks if the programme is conducted in isolation, or 26 weeks if it is combined with other measures or programmes;
- the public authorities will pay all the costs of language teaching and of programmes for the upgrading of skills which must, in return, be provided by the enterprises; and
- given these new measures, the enterprises are expected to recruit the people concerned at an earlier stage than is currently the case.
Phase 2 – workplace training
The second phase, during which vocational training is provided, will aim at making the individuals concerned ready for ordinary employment as early as possible. Enterprises will be responsible for this phase, which involves the following:
- an individual will be recruited by the enterprise and training will start;
- the parties to collective agreements have committed themselves to laying down pay and other employment conditions which will ensure that individual immigrants can be employed by enterprises and go through the agreed programme to upgrade their skills;
- enterprises will have to pay a wage only during the period where the person is actually working; and
- the public authorities will pay the costs of continuing Danish-language courses and other skills training activities.
Phase 3 – ordinary employment
The last phase of the integration process is ordinary employment, whereby the individual will – following the language and job-skills training programmes provided – be able to participate on an equal footing with all other people on the Danish labour market, and will enjoy the same rights and be covered by the same collective agreements as other employees.
There is a good deal of flexibility and new ways of thinking in the new agreement. This applies, in particular, to the swift contact with the workplace and the stricter rules on language teaching, in combination with the new requirements placed on the 'new Danes' themselves. If everything goes as planned, the Danish labour market can look forward to a major 'blood transfusion' from the integration of new members, but it is premature to assess how matters will actually develop. Earlier initiatives in this area proved abortive because the implementation phase was never actually started – for various reasons, often related to slowness in the process. Speed and motivation will thus be important in the coming period.
The area that may cause the new initiative to fail is phase one – the workplace introduction period. The real content of this phase is merely that the immigrants will 'get a taste' of the work, the organisation and the culture of individual enterprises. It will not necessarily result in an upgrading of their skills and qualifications. The most significant aspect of the agreement is rather that immigrants will be faced, at an early stage, with the perception that their own active effort is required - though this will, initially, in most cases be limited to watching others work.
LO has expressed some concern along these lines, while DA is generally very satisfied with the content of the agreement. The most important point is that, by signing the agreement, the social partners have taken practical steps in order to change the situation whereby so many immigrants, refugees and people being reunited with their families are outside the labour market. LO has recently stated that the situation is critical, not least because of the tight situation on the Danish labour market over the coming decades due to demographic changes. For this reason alone, it is absolutely necessary to integrate refugees and immigrants into the labour market. This is one of the greatest challenges facing the Danish labour market at present. (Carsten Jørgensen, FAOS)