Initiatives to promote the integration of immigrants

The issue of the labour market integration of immigrants has been very topical in Denmark in the first half of 2000. The National Institute for Social Research has evaluated a training project for unemployed immigrants and found it to be successful, identifying the criteria for success as better language competences combined with active job-seeking activities and practical training programmes. The project may turn out to be a breakthrough for integration initiatives in Denmark, and is fully in line with the proposals contained in the first consolidated report issued early in 2000 by a joint committee on integration set up by the government.

On 16 May 2000, the National Institute for Social Research (Socialforskningsinstituttet, SFI) published its evaluation of a project entitled "Integration of immigrants on the labour market" run at the Kofoeds Skole centre in Copenhagen. Some 190 immigrants and refugees participated in the project during the period 1997-9. The project is a concrete example of Objective 3 of the European Social Fund (ESF) and was partly financed by the ESF. The common characteristics of the participants - in addition to being refugees/immigrants or descendants of immigrants - were that they were over 25 years of age and receiving either unemployment benefits or social assistance, and that they had all enrolled in the project voluntarily. The objective of the project was: "to increase the participants' chances for labour market integration; to enhance their chances of being admitted to occupational training/education programmes; [and] to give the participants a personal kick-start which may turn out to be valuable in a longer perspective."

The SFI finds that the project has been a success, with 70% of the participants obtaining employment on completion of the course or going into further training/education. The participants were prepared for entering employment in companies through a combination of training, personal guidance and 14 weeks of practical training in an enterprise. The personal contact maintained through the period of practical job training turned out to be of decisive importance. Employers had to reconsider any prejudices they might have had and the immigrants developed stronger belief in their own opportunities. On the course, the immigrants were taught how to target their efforts to obtain a trainee place. They were taught how to draw up an application and to set realistic targets for themselves in relation to their background and qualifications. The course also included lessons in Danish, English, information technology (IT) and social science. The result was found to be a major lift in the self-esteem of the immigrant people involved.

Social partners express satisfaction

The Danish Employers' Confederation (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA) has stated that is impressed by the results of the course. "This project has shown that it is possible to strengthen integration by offering our new Danish citizens lessons in Danish, IT and other subjects and by encouraging them to be active. It is important that these experiences are passed on to other projects and other new Danish citizens", said DA's director, Henrik Bach Mortensen. The trade unions have also expressed their satisfaction with the project.

This statement from the director of DA is particularly interesting because the members of his organisation have recently been criticised for showing a lack of interest in participating in the municipal integration councils which were set up after the municipal authorities formally took over responsibility for the integration of refugees and immigrants from 1 January 1999. So far, DA has argued that its members do not have the time to participate in the many meetings held by these councils. This position has been criticised because of the high political priority accorded to these councils.

In spite of the criticism and accusations of empty words levelled at the statements made by the social partners about their will to handle the integration issue, it is a fact that integration measures have been strengthened over the past year. A number of major and minor studies have all pointed to a major need for initiatives in the labour market field. Both the trade unions and the employers have publicly committed themselves to increasing and intensifying integration measures.

Statistics Denmark figures from a study carried out for DA show that 15% more immigrants from the least developed countries obtained employment in the course of 1998. The unemployment rate among this group fell to 19%, which is still higher than for the rest of the population. The unemployment rate is generally higher for immigrants and their descendants than for other Danish citizens. On average, it is 16.5% for immigrants compared with 5.5% for the rest of the population, according to a more recent study carried out for the Ministry of Labour concerning the labour market attachment of all groups of immigrants and their descendants. This study also shows that only a little more than half of this group (56%) are in the labour force, compared with 80% for the rest of the population. In January 2000, the total number of refugees/immigrants and their descendants living in Denmark was 363,450 - corresponding to 7% of the population. About 25% come from Turkey and the former Yugoslavia, the same proportion as come from North America and the EEA countries, while 30% come from Asia and Africa.

Existing measures

Since 1 January 1999, a number of initiatives have been taken to promote the recruitment of ethnic minorities. The initiatives have been taken by a broad range of different actors: the public employment service, municipal authorities, unemployment insurance funds, ministries, the Confederation of Danish Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO), DA, the National Association of Local Authorities (Kommunernes Landsforening, KL), the Association of Engineers and various organisations representing immigrants. The content of the initiatives cover an equally broad spectrum: publication of information material from the social partners and the immigrants' organisations; organisation of conferences and seminars about labour market integration; implementation of labour market policy instruments; training of staff and employee representatives; recruitment of "ethnic consultants" in the public employment service and some ministries; pilot projects concerning ethnic minority staff policies in the public sector; and better offers of education in the Danish language and social science.

The most important initiative on the part of the social partners has been the establishment of an official joint committee composed of representatives of seven ministries (chaired by the Ministry of Labour), all central social partner organisations, KL, the Danish Federation of County Councils (Amtsrådsforeningen, ARF) and the municipalities of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg. In February 2000, the committee published a comprehensive report which stresses the need for structured measures and identifies five key fields of action:

  1. recruitment of more persons from ethnic minorities in public and private enterprises;
  2. better knowledge about, and better utilisation of, the competences of ethnic minorities;
  3. improved access to education/training and to the labour market for young persons from ethnic minorities; and
  4. increased flexibility in the organisation of courses in the Danish language in relation to the needs of the enterprises; and
  5. strengthening of research and analysis activities.

For each of these five fields of action, a number of proposals were drawn up which should form the basis for the further work of the relevant actors. The committee's report successfully brings together official activities in the field of integration of immigrants into a single track; previously the activities were often sporadic and not very transparent. In the collective bargaining round involving member organisations of LO and DA in spring 2000 (DK0002167F), the question of the integration of immigrants and refugees was mentioned for the first time in collective agreements and formed part of the draft settlement drawn up by the Public Conciliator. LO and DA have decided to further intensify their cooperation in this field. LO will start a special "mentoring" scheme, whereby specially appointed employees at workplaces will be given the task of offering support and guidance to young colleagues from a different ethnic background. The trade unions have also announced that they will try to attract immigrants in the appointment of employee representatives.

Commentary

The training project at the Kofoeds Skole centre must be considered a breakthrough in the efforts towards the integration of immigrants, seen in the light of the report of the joint committee. The report recognises, importantly, that the road to integration in Danish society is better language skills and employment. The study by the National Institute for Social Research shows that it is also an important criterion for success that the individual is actively involved in the job-seeking process. When the first personal barriers has been broken down by both the employer and the employee, the road is open to a permanent job.

According to forecasts, there will be a significant fall in the Danish labour force in the coming decades. This perspective makes the integration issue even more relevant. Economic experts envisage a situation in which Denmark will have to attract qualified labour from "third world" countries in order to fill the gaps, for instance in the IT field. This has made the public discussion about attitudes to immigration even more blurred than it was already. In the midst of a very heated public debate, it attracted much attention that Hans Skov Christensen, director of the Confederation of Danish Industries (Dansk Industri, DI), sent out a clear signal in this area. He wrote a very enthusiastic article in the "Politiken newspaper" about the unreasonableness of casting suspicion on people with a different ethnic background and about the responsibility of Danish trade and industry for the integration of these groups. It was a very important signal that Mr Christensen took the lead in the efforts to promote integration, given his major political influence and strong position in Danish trade and industry as director of DI. (Carsten Jørgensen, FAOS)

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