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Norway prides itself in policies and values that give a high priority towards ensuring decent work and adherence to fundamental universal workers’ rights. While there exist institutions and policies that seek to enforce law to protect workers, it is increasingly likely that a majority of international students do not understand their rights and do not know what to do once a bad situation occurs at a place of work.
I am not blaming students for not knowing their rights, there are many challenges and issues that face an international student arriving in Norway. With the high cost of living in Norway and with minimal understanding of Norwegian language most international students are likely to take on lowly paid, informal jobs in which there is a risk of exploitation. The majority of international students work as cleaners, restaurant and pub waiters/waitresses, at construction companies and as newspapers distributors et cetera.
We have compelling evidence that international students are at the center of social dumping currently witnessed in Norway. Since the quota scheme was stopped a few years ago some international students are joining universities as self-sponsored students who do not qualify for student loans in Norway. Such circumstances have forced them to take lowly paid jobs and work excessive hours and get exposed to indecent working environments.
For instance, recently Universitas published a story about Lauren Guido, a 22-year-old American student at the Norwegian University of Life Science (NMBU). She, and four anonymous employees, accused The Nighthawk Diner Restaurant in Grünerløkka for not being given hours as contractually agreed, not paying sick-pay and threatening employees. They say their complaints were not listened to.
Two other students who contacted ISU and wished to remain anonymous highlighted they were underpaid for at their places of part time work. One of them stated that she worked at a Kebab shop within Oslo where she was paid only NOK 100 per hour which was increased to 150 NOK after months of complaining.
While all these are unconfirmed allegations, they point out to a potential larger unseen problem of exploitation of foreign students. These cases are extremely concerning to us as ISU because they reveal the possibility that employers could be breaking the law and disregarding labour rights due to the potential ignorance of international students.
We believe that this should be a call to action for the relevant authorities particularly the Norwegian labour Inspection Authority (Arbeidstilsynet), NAV and universities to find appropriate ways to support all students working in Norway. I challenge all Norwegian universities to develop robust mechanisms for educating and creating awareness to international students on their labour rights during their stay in Norway. The «Studentombud» is crucial in this endeavor that students can confidentially report such issues and get the appropriate support and resolution.