Combatting unreported work

25th of June 2019 Article by Lotte Printz
Combatting unreported work

Using under-the-table cleaners or unreported employment in Norway has become a more costly affair. But just as fines have gone up, authorities have cut the activities holding the sector in check, reports Scandinavian correspondent Lotte Printz.

A honeypot for criminals. That’s how National Union Secretary Brede Edvardsen of the Norwegian Union of General Workers (including cleaners) describes the labour market because “the risk of getting caught is so ridiculously low”, as he puts it, speaking to an independent trade union magazine in Norway.

“It’s easier to go under the radar with social dumping and other types of work-related crime in a shadow economy. And the shadow economy is huge,” Edvardsen says.

The cleaning and facilities sector per se is struggling with unreported employment, be it cleaning companies using illegal immigrants as cheap labour or people providing domestic services without paying income tax, sometimes referred to as ghosts.

Bigger fines

As a result, Brede Edvardsen was pleased when the Oslo Police increased the fines levied on offenders in this field from NOK 10,000 to 50,000 (€5,100), effective from January 1 this year, with the other Norwegian police districts expected to follow suit.

The directive governing the obligation to check whether the cleaning providers you buy services from are so-called legal ones was changed earlier, in the summer of 2018. Which means that it now applies not only to professional cleaning companies, but also to private individuals who then risk the same heavy fines for using under-the-table cleaners.

The Norwegian Working Environment Authority keeps a free and easily accessible registry on legal cleaning providers on its website, but the Norwegian employer organisation Virke still estimates that 90 per cent of domestic cleaning services are “cash-in-hand” jobs.

No official figures on the number of fines imposed since the effective date have been published as of yet, but the National Union Secretary told ECJ he has reason to believe that the heavier fines has had an impact already – not least a deterrent effect.

Unfortunately, he adds, a police reform is currently being implemented so the police have not been channelling their efforts into tackling unreported employment activities in the cleaning sector lately.
And the fight against unreported employment has suffered another blow: the Norwegian Working Environment Authority that is responsible for administering the working environment acts and doing inspections to that effect have cut down the number of inspections in the cleaning sector considerably.

In the first quarter of 2019, only five thorough inspections have been carried out. In comparison, 119 inspections were carried out last year and more than 300 in both 2014 and 2015.
“Both, of course, are deeply worrying,” Edvardsen tells ECJ.

In the case of reduced inspections, he thinks that the past 10 years’ efforts to “clean up” and professionalise the sector may have suffered a serious setback. He is still confident though, that heavier fines will have an impact eventually and are an important measure in combatting the shadow economy in the cleaning and facilities sector.

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