Sunday, August 27, 2006

Polish newspaper men in Denmark

After the Polish plumber in France, one of his countrymen almost made it to Denmark: the Polish newspaper man. Until some politicians got involved in the matter, and some unemployed Danes were put to do the job in stead.

This summer two new free newspapers were launched in Denmark: dato («date») and 24timer («24 hours»). These free newspapers weren't just going to bedistributed on the streets, but also at home in the capital region of Copenhagen and some other Danish cities. But in order to distribute a newspaper, you need newspaper men, and since this isn't exactly a job with a high status in Denmark, the distribution company BS Distribution ApS, which was responsible for the distribution to the homes, ran into a problem: There weren't enough Danish candidates who wanted to go around with the newspaper early in the morning, and as is often the case with these kinds of problem jobs, the company tried to solve the problem by recruiting people from Central and Eastern Europe, more specifically Poland and the Baltic countries.

Of course, this initiative from the distribution company attracted the media's and the politicians' attention. On the one hand Denmark has a problem with lots of unemployed people who can't find a job, whereas on the other hand a company cannot find people for some vacancies for which the qualifications cannot be said to be very high. After all, what do you need to be able to do as a newspaper man? You must be able to read addresses, obviously, and in addition have a pair of good legs and a fine back. And be willing to get out of your bed early in the morning to go out and earn your own living in stead of simply pocketing unemployment benefits for months and months. And according to quite some politicians, it was rather the latter that was the real problem in this case once it became clear that the distribution company wasn't operating with wages that were ridiculously low, but at a normal, Danish level.

That does not mean that people didn't start to blame each other for the problem. The Danish employment agency complained that the distribution company had been much too late to ask for help. The liberal minister of employment Claus Hjort Frederiksen (V) from his side said that the municipal agencies often were to «lax» to put unemployed people back to work. The director of the job centre in Copenhagen Flemming Stegmann recognized that of the 22,000 unemployed people in Copenhagen, only about 5,000 of them were really available for the labour market. According to Jakob Axel Nielsen of the Conservatives (K), this is indeed a big part of the problem, and this also explains why so many companies don't use the employment agencies when they are looking for new employees: «The companies have no faith in the services, and a lots of unemployed people have nested themselves in the benefit systems because they are not fit for the labour market.»

The left sees things completely differently though. According to the Social Democrats (A) and the Socialist People's Party (SF) the real problem is that the system to find a job has been made «too complicated», and they also say that Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen should take at least a part of the blame. He «ruined» the system of the employment agencies by using too many resources in internal controls and statistical measurings. Their solution for the problem: a government campaign aimed at the employers, so that they can rediscover the employment agencies as a place where they can find new employees. Apparently for the left there's no problem that big that it can't be solved by yet another government campaign.