With ten days to go in Denmark’s election campaign, one of the central issues dominating the debate is the role of foreigners in the Danish workforce.
Leading parties Venstre and the Social Democrats argue over how many of the jobs created during PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s government have gone to foreigners over Danes, the Danish People’s Party wants to make it even harder for Danish companies to recruit foreign workers, while left-wing parties bemoan the fact that eastern Europeans are taking low-paying jobs.
But while politicians seemingly compete to see who can put up the biggest wall between Denmark and the rest of the world, Danish industry leaders warn that the country simply cannot get by without foreign workers.
The Confederation of Danish Industry (DI) said over the weekend that there are just not enough Danes to meet the country’s future needs and some industries have already become fully dependent on the ability to bring in workers from abroad.
“There is absolutely no doubt that we need foreigners to work in Danish companies if we are to continue with the upswing that is underway,” DI’s deputy director Steen Nielsen told broadcaster DR.
“There are now 74,000 fewer Danes than in 2008 and therefore there is an increasing need for people from the outside to solve problems in the companies. That is the primary explanation for why there are so many more foreigners in the workforce. We have needed them,” he added.
Nielsen said that while there is a great demand for highly-specialized foreigners such as engineers and IT specialists, Danish companies are also completely dependent on foreigners to fill manual labour jobs.
“In some sectors, one could not run a business if it wasn’t for the foreigners,” Nielsen said, pointing to the transport, agriculture and cleaning industries.
DI has been a consistent proponent for changing the negative tone toward foreigners that dominates the Danish political and media debates.
In September, DI’s CEO Karsten Dybvad spent the organization’s annual meeting driving home the message that “foreign workers are first and foremost a gain for Denmark.”
“Those foreigners who come here to work don’t bring Denmark down. They lift Denmark up,” Dybvad said.
Just last week, a string of business leaders also spoke out to criticize the way politicians speak about foreigners.
DI’s Nielsen once again reiterated that foreign workers are essential for Denmark’s future.
“We don’t have particularly high unemployment here at the threshold of [economic] recovery. It won’t be long until the resources in terms of manpower have been exhausted here at home. We will stall out in terms of growth if we cannot get foreign manpower,” he told DR.