Sweden needs ‘tougher controls’ on labour migration: OECD

Sweden needs to implement tighter controls of new rules governing foreign labour migration, according to the OECD, which nevertheless concluded that the 2008 reforms have worked fairly well.

In a report issued on Monday, the OECD found that reforms undertaken by the Swedish government to make it easier for companies to bring foreign workers to Sweden have been positive, but that more needs to be done to ensure that migrant workers aren’t mistreated.

Around 12,000 people received permits to work in Sweden in 2011, but migration minister Tobias Billström wants the number to increase.

He is hoping that Sweden’s local authorities and counties will be open to boosting migrant workers in the healthcare sector.

In it’s report, the OECD, which is a cooperative organization representing 34 countries, found that Sweden’s 2008 labour migration reforms have worked well, for the most part.

The study found that Sweden now “has one of the most liberal labour migration regimes” in the OECD. It’s one of the most open systems to be found in the western world, according to the OECD.

“Overall, Sweden’s new system has not led to a boom in labour migration,” the OECD found, although it attributed some of the “somewhat surprising result” to a relatively slack labour market.

Labour migrants from outside the EU have provided a relatively large boost to certain sectors, the OECD found, with about 2 percent of the agriculture sector labour force now attributable to the reforms.

In addition, about 2 percent of the workforce of the household services sector and 1.6 percent of the IT sector consists of workers who found their way to Sweden as a result of the changes, which make it easier for Swedish companies to recruit workers from abroad.

However, the OECD sees the the need for better controls to be implemented, in particular when it comes to ensuring that workers really end up receiving the salaries they’ve been promised by recruiting companies.

If the terms of employment are changed within the first two years of a worker’s arrival in Sweden, the companies should be reported to the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket), the OECD suggests.

The organization also suggests that certain sectors, such as restaurants, which actively recruit workers from outside the EU even though there is no shortage of workers already in Sweden, ought to be subject to tougher controls.

According to the OECD, the reforms haven’t resulted in a major spike in labour migrants from outside the European Union (EU).

The first year of the reforms, 2009, Sweden issued 9,146 work permits, followed by 11,069 in 2010, with estimates for 2011 putting the number of permits at around 12,000.

The OECD found that about half of the permits issued were for workers in industries where there was a shortage of workers in Sweden, and that many of the permits were for short periods of time.

Furthermore, the OECD urged the government and the Migration Board to be vigilant about the increase in labour migrants working in low-skilled jobs.

Billström said on Monday, however, that migration authorities were already working to address some of the shortcomings highlighted by the OECD.

But he sees no reason to, as he described it, once again give Swedish unions a veto right over which type of migrant workers are granted work permits.

“The discussion of reinstituting the labour market needs assessment is dead after this report, as far as I’m concerned,” Billström told the TT news agency, explaining that the OECD didn’t recommend doing so.

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How unhealthy habits are putting pressure on Germany’s healthcare system

Healthcare in Germany has been praised in a global study – but Germans are still battling bad habits.

How unhealthy habits are putting pressure on Germany's healthcare system
Revelllers raise a beer at Oktoberfest in Munich. Photo: DPA

According to the OECD Health at a Glance 2019 report, Germany is among the top five spenders on health care, both as a proportion of GDP (11.2 percent) and per person ($5,986). 

And health spending is projected to further increase to reach 12.3 percent of GDP by 2030.

The report said: “With such high level of spending, Germany guarantees good access to health care services, with a widely available health infrastructure, a high number of health professionals and relatively broad coverage for the costs of health care.”

However, Germany has mixed results when it comes to health outcomes.

Life expectancy for people in Germany is at 81.1, making it 10th in the list of developed countries and above the OECD average of 80.7, but behind Japan which snags the top sport, with a life expectancy rate of 84.2.

READ ALSO: The 20 key stats that help explain Germany today

Unhealthy habits in Germany also remain widespread. Germans on average consume more pure alcohol – 11 litres per year – than the OECD average of 8.9.

To compare with neighbouring countries, the amount of litres of alcohol consumed per year in France is 11.7,while in Austria it's 11.8, and in Switzerland it's 9.2. The countries that consume the lowest amount of alcohol are Turkey, Israel and Mexico (all under five litres).

In Germany, 60 percent of the adult population is more likely to be overweight or obese – that's higher than the OECD average of 55.6 and far greater than in France (49 percent), Austria (46.7 percent) and Switzerland (41.8 percent).

Meanwhile, the share of adults in Germany who smoke – 19 percent – is higher than on average across the OECD, although it's worse in other countries, such as France where the proportion is 25.4 percent.

READ ALSO: Opinion: Why Germany needs to take the smoking ban more seriously

Photo: DPA

Looking at the big picture, smoking rates range from over 25 percent in Greece, Turkey and Hungary, to below 10 percent in Mexico and Iceland.

Germany has a high rate of diabetes. A total of 8.3 percent of the population has diabetes, compared to the OECD average of 6.4 percent. In France, that figure is 4.8 percent, in Austria it's 6.4 and it's 5.6 in Switzerland.

Overall, the report found that 8.4 percent of the population are in poor health, slightly better than the OECD average of 8.5 percent.

Preventable deaths

The OECD researchers say that Germany's unhealthy habits, like drinking too much alcohol and smoking, are contributing to preventable deaths. 

Around 120,000 people died in Germany in 2016 from preventable causes such as lung cancer or alcohol-related causes.

The OECD said this “could be avoided through effective public health and primary prevention interventions”.

While the mortality rate for these causes in Germany is 10 percent below the OECD average, it is substantially higher than in many western European countries, such as Switzerland or the Netherlands.

“Although progress has been made in reducing risky health behaviours, Germans are still more likely to smoke and consume more alcohol than the OECD average,” the report said.

“In 2017, nearly 19 percent of German adults smoked daily. This is down from 23 percent a decade earlier but still much higher than in Sweden or Norway (10-12 percent).”

The report suggested Germany take further measures to combat drinking alcohol and smoking, such as a complete ban on tobacco advertisement.

READ ALSO: Germany should take drinking tips from Scotland, experts insist

High number of doctors and nurses

Things look good when it comes to access to healthcare.

Compared to other OECD countries, Germany has a high availability of doctors and nurses. There are 4.3 practising physicians (OECD average is 3.5) and 12.9 nurses (OECD average is 8.8) per 1,000 population. 

However, there are regional differences, with rural areas less well served. When it comes to doctors, Germany has a relatively low and decreasing proportion of GPs who “play a key role in addressing the needs of an ageing population,” the report said.

This comparably high supply of health workforce needs to be seen in context with the very high health care activity, particularly hospital activity. With 255 hospital discharges per 1,000 population, Germany has the highest rate of inpatient activity among all OECD countries – more than 60 percent above the OECD average. 

READ ALSO: Germans turn to 'medibus' as doctors desert villages

As a result, the workload of some health workers in Germany is high. For example, in hospitals there are fewer nurses per bed than in many neighbouring countries.

A number of policy measures to address this issue and improve working conditions of nurses have been implemented recently. These include the introduction of minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in some areas in hospitals and making additional funding available for hospitals to increase nursing staff.

Germans visit doctors more often than other countries

Germany has the fourth highest share of the population over 65 in the OECD countries, with a growing number of people affected by chronic conditions.

The report said hospitalizations in the Bundesrepublik “are high for chronic conditions such as diabetes or congestive heart failure, that should effectively be dealt with in primary health care”.

Germans also consult doctors in the outpatient sector more frequently than people in most other countries. Demographics and the wide availability explain some but not all of the higher utilization rates, said the OECD.