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Opinion: Low-paid jobs for foreigners aren’t the solution to an unequal labour market

A scheme aiming to give more foreigners a 'fast-track' into the Swedish job market is more problematic than it seems, and ignores many of the issues non-Swedes face on the job market, writes The Local reader Princess Jimenez in this opinion piece.

Opinion: Low-paid jobs for foreigners aren't the solution to an unequal labour market
The 'etableringsjobb' would see newcomers offered a job and training, for a lower than average salary. File photo: Moa Karlberg/imagebank.sweden.se

Starting this summer, the government of Sweden is implementing a new policy, the so-called etableringsjobb or 'establishment job'.

Under this policy, a new low-income category will be created for newly arrived immigrants (as well as for long-term unemployed people), who will receive substantially reduced salaries, the lowest allowed by the collective agreements, as a means of getting them “established in the workforce”. This plan is supported by unions, employers' organizations and the Swedish government.

It’s being sold as a way of helping newcomers get a foothold in the Swedish job market, receiving training and experience while their salaries are partly subsidized by the state. However, no matter how it is presented, it does not stop this scheme from been problematic. In fact, one could say that it’s straightforwardly racist. Why? Because using laws, structures and institutions to discriminate against groups of people based on their origin is racist.

This scheme is tailored with very elaborate language to make it look positive, but it hides questionable practices.

Newly-arrived people will participate in the programme regardless of education, experience, training, or language skills. They are often going to be paid less than a Swede for doing similar work, and employers may take advantage of the scheme, turning jobs that would otherwise be fully paid into lower-waged ones, and create a new category of underpaid jobs where membership is based on ethnicity. The lowest level allowed by collective agreements will be almost always thousands of kronor less than the salary a Swede would receive for the same work.

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These are the most future-proof jobs for the next five years in Sweden
Photo: Berit Roald/NTB/TT

By giving discrimination a legal and legitimizing platform, the government is helping to normalize treating immigrants as if they are worth less in Swedish society. 

It is worth considering whether this policy contravenes the Swedish constitution and EU law. According to chapter 2, paragraph 12 of the Swedish constitution, no law or other directive is allowed to put someone at a disadvantage because the person is part of a minority in terms of ethnic origin, skin color, or other similar condition. In the EU, anti-discrimination laws clearly prohibit discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin.

The main reason why many foreigners, and indeed many non-white Swedes, have a hard time finding jobs in Sweden is discrimination.

HAVE YOUR SAY: How good is Sweden for international talent?

Minorities in Sweden, especially black people, already make less money than white Swedes. In 2018 a report on discrimination in the Swedish labour market by the Centre of Multidisciplinary Studies of Racism and Uppsala University found that black people in Sweden make less money than their white counterparts. Researchers also found black workers are more likely to be unemployed for longer periods of time regardless of their education, receive lower average salaries than white people with similar jobs and qualifications, and tend to be in jobs for which they are overqualified.

Six out of ten unemployed people in Sweden come from non-European countries, which means that in addition to recent arrivals, immigrants will make up the majority of the long-term unemployed group that will also be part of the etableringsjobb scheme.

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Pushing minorities to the outskirts of society has proven to not only hurt those minorities affected by institutionalized racism, but also the rest of society.

It creates segregation, poverty, it normalizes aggressive forms of racism, and it creates distrusts in institutions. In a 2018 survey from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Sweden ranked 8th of countries with the highest perceived racist violence against people of African descent in Europe.

A survey commissioned by The Living History Forum in 2017 showed that almost half of Swedes said they think racism will grow in the coming year. The policy of etableringsjobb is just part of a trend whereby racism is normalized. What Sweden needs is to go the extreme opposite direction; to create civil rights institutions which will use legal and institutional frameworks to protect minorities from discrimination, instead of using taxpayers’ money to sponsor unfair policies.

From the centuries-long bigoted state-sponsored violence against the Samis, Jewish, Finnish, Roma people and Travellers, to the participation of Sweden in the colonization of Congo, the creation of eugenics institutions, and the open and shameless discrimination of black Swedes and immigrants in the Swedish job market; the history of racism in Sweden is long and complex.

But we cannot allow Sweden to go back to a discourse where we think it is acceptable to even consider paying lower salaries to a group based on their origin. Racism affects us all, it weakens institutions and our society’s ability of coexistence, and we all must work together and be vigilant in order to stop structural racism in our nation.

Princess Jimenez moved to Stockholm, Sweden in 2018 and has a Special Education degree. Some of her interests are social sciences, politics, drag queens, memes, and heavy metal. You can follow her on Twitter here.


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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Down with hygge! Sweden’s mys is more real, fun and inclusive

Hygge, the Danish art of getting cosy, has taken the world by storm. But the Swedish equivalent is refreshingly different, says David Crouch 

Down with hygge! Sweden’s mys is more real, fun and inclusive

It is around six years since the Danish word hygge entered many of our languages. Hygge, pronounced hue-guh and generally translated as the art of cosiness, exploded almost overnight to become a global lifestyle phenomenon.

Hygge dovetailed with mindfulness and fed into other popular trends such as healthy eating, and even adult colouring books. “The Little Book of Hygge” became a publishing sensation and has been translated into 15 languages. In time for Christmas, its author has just issued a second book, “My Hygge Home”, one of dozens already on the market. This is the season of peak hygge, of candles, log fires, cups of cocoa and comforting music.

There is nothing wrong with new ways to relax, and certainly no harm in identifying them with Scandinavia. But as a guide to living your life, there are some problems with hygge. 

First, the original meaning of the word is too broad and subtle to enable a clear grasp of the concept among non-Danes. This probably helps to explain its appeal – hygge is an empty bottle into which you can pour whatever liquid you like.

Patrick Kingsley, who wrote a book about Denmark several years before the hygge hype, was “surprised to hear people describe all sorts of things” as hygge. Danes, he said, would use the word when talking about a bicycle, a table, or even an afternoon stroll. 

So it is hardly surprising that, outside Denmark, hygge is applied rather indiscriminately. Last week the New York Times devoted an entire article to achieving hygge while riding the city’s subway, of all places. “A train, after all, is basically a large sled that travels underground, in the dark,” it said, trying too hard to find a hint of Nordicness on the overcrowded railway.

READ ALSO: Danish word of the day – hyggeracisme

Hygge has become an exotic and mysterious word to describe more or less anything you want. It is as if someone decided that the English word “nice” had a magical meaning that contained the secret to true happiness, and then the whole non-English speaking world made great efforts to achieve the perfect feeling of “nice”. 

A second problem with hygge is that, in Denmark itself, it seems to operate like a badge of Danishness that can only be enjoyed by Danes themselves – a kind of cultural border that outsiders cannot cross. You can walk down a Danish street in the dark, one journalist was told, look through the windows and spot who is Danish and who is foreign just by whether their lighting is hygge or not.

When writer Helen Russell spent a year in Denmark, she was intrigued by hygge and asked a lifestyle coach about it. “It’s hard to explain, it’s just something that all Danes know about,” she was told. How could an immigrant to Denmark get properly hygge, Russell asked? “You can’t. It’s impossible,” was the unhelpful reply. It can’t be a coincidence that the far-right Danish Peoples Party has put a clear emphasis on hygge, as if immigration is a threat to hygge and therefore to Danishness itself. 

READ ALSO: It’s official – Hygge is now an English word

Outside Denmark, this exclusivity has taken on another aspect: where are all the children? Where amid the hygge hype are the bits of lego on the floor, the mess of discarded clothes, toys and half-eaten food, the bleeping iPads and noisy TVs? “Hygge is about a charmed existence in which children are sinisterly absent,” noted the design critic for the Financial Times. It’s as if the Pied Piper of hygge has spirited them away so you can get truly cosy. 

But there is a bigger problem with hygge. It is largely an invention, the work of some clever marketing executives. After spotting a feature about hygge on the BBC website, two of London’s biggest publishers realised this was “a perfect distillation of popular lifestyle obsessions”. They set out to find people who could write books for them on the subject, and so two bestsellers were born, spawning a host of imitations. 

Sweden has a different word that means roughly the same thing: mys (the noun) and mysig (the adjective). There have even been some half-hearted attempts to sell mys to a foreign audience in the same way as hygge. But the real meaning of mys in Swedish society is rather different, it seems to me. The reason for this, I think, is that mys has become so firmly identified with Friday nights, or fredagsmys – the “Friday cosy”. 

Fredagsmys is a collective sigh of relief that the working / school week is over, and now it is time for the whole family to come together in front of some trashy TV with a plate of easy finger-food. The word first appeared in the 1990s, entered the dictionary in 2006, and became a semi-official national anthem three years later with this joyous ad for potato crisps:

In this portrayal, mys is radically different to hygge. It is a celebration of the ordinary, witty and multi-cultural, featuring green-haired goths and a mixed-race family with small children. Food is central to fredagsmys, and what is the typical food of choice? Mexican, of course! Not a herring in sight.

Why Mexican? It seems nobody is really sure, but tacofredag now has roots in Swedish society. Tacos, tortillas, and all the accompanying spices and sauces take up a whole aisle of the typical Swedish supermarket. Swedes are accustomed to eating bread with various bits and pieces on top, according to a specialist in Swedish food culture, while the Swedish tradition of smörgåsbord (open sandwiches) makes a buffet meal seem natural. The fussiness of tacos is even reminiscent of a kräftskiva crayfish party.

There is no cultural exclusivity here. On the contrary, fredagsmys food could equally be Italian, North American, Middle-Eastern, British or French. And children are absolutely central to a good Friday cosy. 

With Swedish mys, everybody is welcome. Get cosy and relax, but do it by mixing and getting messy, rather than retreating into pure, perfect, rarified isolation. There is a time and a place for hygge. But the Swedish version is more real, more fun, and more inclusive.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University

 
 
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