Denmark opposition leader rejects calls for skilled labour from outside EU

Mette Frederiksen, leader of the opposition Social Democrats, says Danish companies do not need increase efforts to hire skilled foreign workers from outside the European free movement zone, despite calls by business representatives for Denmark to attract highly-qualified labour.

Denmark opposition leader rejects calls for skilled labour from outside EU
Mette Frederiksen thinks Denmark should not smooth the way for skilled foreign workers from outside the EU. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Frederiksen’s comments came in response to Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s speech at the opening of parliament on Tuesday.

In the speech, Rasmussen confirmed his government would launch a programme aimed at bringing in skilled foreign workers from abroad.

“Tomorrow, the government will present a programme which will make it easier (for companies) to attract staff from countries with which we already have strong bonds. Such as the United States, Canada, Singapore, Japan,” Rasmussen said in his speech.

Minister for immigration and integration Inger Støjberg and employment minister Troels Lund Poulsen on Wednesday officially presented a 21-point programme aimed at smoothing the way for companies who want to attract skilled workers from outside the EU, EEA or EFTA.

READ ALSO: Danish government presents plan to recruit skilled foreign labour

But Denmark has no need for such workers, according to Frederiksen.

“I don’t agree with the prime minister. He wants to import labour from, for example, Africa and Asia to the Danish labour market,” Frederiksen said to Ritzau, omitting countries not on those continents but included by Rasmussen in his speech.

“That is endlessly short-termist. Firstly, we have many young people who are currently not doing anything. It is better to invest in their education,” she said.

“We also have unskilled workers who should be given the chance to gain skills and women who are working part-time,” she added.

Frederiksen argued that Danish companies who lack skilled workers could look to the EU labour market, which she considers sufficient to make up any shortfall in skilled labour already present in Denmark.

“I would very much like to help solve bureaucratic problems met by companies in their attempts to attract skilled labour.

“But it’s a ‘no thanks’ to easing the way for skilled labour from third countries,” she told Ritzau.

The Confederation of Danish Industry (Dansk Industri, DI), a private interest organisation funded, owned and managed by 10,000 companies within the manufacturing, trade and service industries, rejected Frederiksen’s claims that Denmark would not benefit from skilled labour from outside Europe.

There would be no benefit in restricting Danish companies to drawing employees only from within the EU, Linda Wendelboe, head of global talent with DI, told The Local.

“This is not a question of one way or the other, we need to do both. We need to be better at educating the talent we have within Denmark, we need to get better at bringing in the employees we can from the rest of Europe, and we also need to look at the broader perspective and attract the talent that (companies) need from outside Europe,” Wendelboe said.

“So it’s not a question of, ‘should we do one thing or another’, it’s a question of companies really needing access to the best talent from all over the world, so we need to do both,” she added.

The organisation’s deputy director Steen Nielsen said that Denmark would be putting its economic upturn at risk by reducing opportunities for skilled foreign workers.

“There is absolutely a risk. When companies cannot find staff to carry out work, they are forced to say ‘no thanks’ to new orders and taking on work,” Nielsen told Ritzau prior to Wednesday's official presentation of the plan.

“That will give us lower growth than we otherwise could have,” he added.

Nielsen also said he was positive about the government strategy for international recruitment.

“It is a very good idea to try to bring more foreign workers to Denmark. We have a strong need for it. There are currently good job opportunities for jobseeking Danes. They have good opportunities to find work,” the DI deputy director said.

“But we also need to bring in foreign labour,” he added.

According to figures from national bureau Statistics Denmark, unemployment fell by 600 between July and August this year. 11,200 more people gained employment during the 12 months prior to August 2018. The exceptionally high employment figures are a warning sign given the current struggles of many companies to fill positions, DI has argued.

READ ALSO: PM, opposition leader discuss employment of skilled foreign workers at conference


Meet the group building bridges between Danes and foreign residents

Moving to Denmark as an expat often turns out to be more difficult than you would expect. Snigdha Bansal, a student at Aarhus University's Mundus Journalism program, writes about the Facebook group trying to build bridges with Danes.

Meet the group building bridges between Danes and foreign residents
The group has six active admins, from both Denmark and elsewhere. Photo: Tine H. Jorgensen
Moving to Denmark as an expat, one looks forward to embracing Danish culture and getting integrated into one of the world’s happiest societies. However, it often turns out to be more difficult than you would expect. 
Established in 2019, ‘Beyond Stereotypes: Danes & Internationals’ seeks to facilitate interactions between expats and locals in Denmark
‘Difficult to integrate with the Danes’
Poulomi Deb Bose, 33, moved to Denmark from India with her husband in June 2019. She says Danes have been very helpful in everyday interactions – at supermarkets, or at bus stops, helping her find her way in English. However, it has been integrating with them that has proved difficult.
“My interaction with Danes is limited to my landlord or people at the local kommune. It’s even difficult to spot them around, unless at the gym, where it never goes beyond a smile. It is a lot easier to talk to other internationals”, she says.
A couple months ago, a friend told her about a Facebook group with not just internationals but also Danes. Up until then, she had only been part of the groups with Internationals and this was the first of its kind where both communities were encouraged to interact with each other.
‘Building bridges’
Beyond Stereotypes: Danes & Internationals is a Facebook group with over 2,400 members.
The group was formed by Tine H. Jorgensen, a 56-year old academic and practitioner. While it acts as a meeting point for expats in Denmark and Danes, members are also invited to share their own unique experiences of interactions within the community to inspire and help others.
The idea of the group was sparked in early 2019 by a conversation Jorgensen had after a radio show in Aarhus where she was performing clairvoyance on air. The host of the show, Houda Naji from Morocco, and Enas Elgarhy, another invitee from Egypt, told her of their experiences of getting married to Danes and settling in Denmark.
“They talked about how difficult it was to make Danish friends, how long it took to get a CPR number which was needed for basic things like going to the gym, and other issues that made me realise how ridiculous it was for internationals. I asked myself what I could do about this.”
She decided the least she could do was to start a Facebook group, and invited both Naji and Elgarhy to join her as admins.
As the group has grown, its “bridge-building” role has become clearer, says Jorgensen, as more International and Danish admins come on board. 
The group organises monthly meet-ups for members to interact. Photo: Tine H. Jorgensen
‘Challenging our own biases’
Marta Gabriela Rodriguez-Karpowicz is a 38-year old life coach from Poland who recently started her own practice after working at the Danish corporation Vestas for almost 10 years.
She recently became a Danish citizen after 12 years of living in the country and is also an admin of the group. She took on the role because she believed that it would be “a worthwhile effort to build bridges between Danes and Internationals, which doesn’t appear to be happening naturally.” She wanted to be a part of this initiative owing to her own struggles to integrate and her experience of having grown past that phase, using which she could help others. 
“I also wanted to identify which biases I still had myself, so I could challenge them and grow beyond stereotypes”, she says.
‘Overcoming challenges’
The group connects people across Denmark by organising hobby-based meet-ups, providing a platform to discuss travel stories around Denmark as well as social issues such as racism. Job postings and job-seeking posts are also welcome, which some would say is the biggest challenge. 
Both Bose and Rodriguez-Karpowicz accompanied their husbands who found jobs in Denmark, and did not expect the difficulties they would face while finding jobs for themselves.
Bose associates it with the trust factor that is deeply ingrained in Danes. “I have realised they can be quite rigid in trusting outsiders for jobs or with references”, she says. 
This is also an area Rodriguez-Karpowicz believes she can help members with, since she found it difficult to get a job despite being “highly educated and experienced”, but eventually managed.
Integration in a new country can be difficult, but expats shouldn’t give up, according to Jorgensen. 
She acknowledges that racism does exist in Denmark, but at the same time, there are a lot of Danes who are very welcoming, and that’s the Danish attitude she wanted to highlight.
“I wanted to do my little bit to bring that forward, and connect people in a practical way.”