23rd Aug 2019

Polish embassy under fire over minimum wage in Denmark

Danish trade unions have accused the Polish embassy in Copenhagen of encouraging Polish construction workers to ignore the collective agreements that regulate the Danish labour market.

The trade union has been backed by the June Movement, Junibevaegelsen, Denmark's eurosceptic party.

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  • The fabled Polish plumber - Eastern European workers face fresh conflict in Scandinavia (Photo: Polish tourist information office in Paris)

They argue that the Danish labour model is being undermined but their opponents believe that the Danish trade union model itself undermines the EU principle of freedom of movement.

The Polish embassy website had informed Polish workers interested in coming to Denmark that they should comply with regional and national agreements on salaries and working conditions, but also points out they are not under legal obligation to do so.

This would mean that Polish workers could technically work for under the agreed minimum wage - making them more attractive than Danish workers.

Junibevaegelsen believes the information goes against the spirit of the Danish labour model, and may "create greater inequalities in society".

The party also asks why the information was taken down from the website so suddenly after the construction trade union, TIB, started investigating its content.

But Radek Krajewicz, press officer for the Polish embassy in Copenhagen, denies that the information was taken away because of its sensitive content.

"The page is currently being updated, and the information will be the same after the update. Our information comes from the Danish ministry of employment and is perfectly correct", he says.

"We do not encourage any illegal salary levels or agreements", says Mr Krajewicz. "We are here to cooperate".

Mr Krajewicz in the Polish embassy in Copenhagen points out that the embassy receives several calls every day from Danish construction companies who are on the look-out for Polish workers.

Irresponsible local employers

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Sweden, there is also some controversy about workers from the new member states.

The Swedish construction trade union, Byggnads, recently launched a campaign with the message "The threat does not come from the outside", in the run up to annual talks on wages.

Byggnads argues that the real danger to the Nordic social model comes from irresponsible local employers who try to slash wages and workers' rights by shipping in eastern European workers.

Scandinavian-style collective agreements are established annually between both sides of the industry, and are as legally binding as market rules in other EU countries that use legislation rather than handshakes for labour matters.

But critics say the agreements breach the EU Treaty on free movement of services, and that legal provisions on minimum wage should be the only benchmark that foreign service providers need worry about.

Latvia's minister of finance Krisjanis Karins hinted in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter last week that the Scandinavian collective agreements created artificially high pay levels.

Mr Karins brought up last winter's conflict between Latvian construction company Laval, contracted to build a new school in the Swedish town of Vaxholm.

The company went bankrupt due to a blockade from a series of Swedish trade unions.

"The service trade in the EU is limited, and it is a form of protectionism. If we should protect the Swedish model, we should look at the social model of the whole of EU", Mr Karins indicated.

Laval, the Swedish Labour Court and Latvian authorities have taken the conflict to the European Court of Justice.

But the debate is set to continue until the EU's rules are made more clear.

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