Danes and cleaning - a poor match?

23rd of January 2015
Danes and cleaning - a poor match?

The cleaning sector could be the answer to long-term unemployed leaving the Danish benefit system. But ethnic Danes are reluctant to take on cleaning jobs. Our correspondent Lotte Printz reports.

Every so often the Danish welfare system and what it does to the unemployed’s willingness to work and for example take on low-income jobs, such as cleaning, are subject to scrutiny. Last November a new round of debate started.

DR, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, broadcast a new TV programme on the issue. Its starting point was figures showing that there are 109,000 unemployed ethnic Danes in Denmark and that workers of foreign origin fill what amounts to 123,000 positions – some part-time – Sussie Weinhold, chief sub editor of the programme, explains.

To find out what these immigrants or migrant workers can that ethnic Danes perhaps cannot or will not do job wise, the programme sets up an experiment where 11 unemployed ethnic Danes are offered jobs in low-income industries for a week.

One of the businesses participating is Specialised Hotelrengøring. A Danish company specialised in hotel housekeeping, the company faces these issues on a daily basis and therefore agreed to take part in the experiment.

“Recruiting skilled hotel cleaners generally poses great challenges. And had it not been for foreign workers, our company would not exist at all,” Lars Larsson, partner and operations manager of Specialised Hotelrengøring, says.

In peak season Specialised Hotelrengøring employs approximately 150 staff and in the peak season just ended only five of them were ethnic Danes.

The company would gladly hire more, but there are obstacles, the operations manager explains. “Cleaning is a low-income business, so Danes tend to consider cleaning jobs to be low-status jobs. Besides, there seems to be little financial incentive to take on a cleaning job in comparison to collecting benefits.”

Even after the Danish Government cut the unemployment benefit period from four years to two, by which long-term unemployed risk ending up on the less generous welfare or even losing all income, there seems to be some reluctance. “Cleaning could harm my career” is still a ‘popular’ explanation when highly-educated benefit recipients are asked about this situation.  

At Specialised Hotelrengøring they would like things and attitudes to change. “But we do not have the recipe for success in that field. We are trying, though, to express our views when discussing this issue with the other side of industry,” Lars Larsson says.

The Danish trade union for cleaners, 3F, did not wish to comment on those views and the experiment for this article.

Optimistically hoping to get the ultimate answer from the TV experiment would be to aim too high. “The experiment is not conclusive, nor does it paint an unambiguous picture of ethnic Danes. The objective is to trigger the debate on welfare and whether it pays to work,” Sussie Weinhold says.


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