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Marginalised youths on the labour ministers’ agenda

Marginalised youths on the labour ministers’ agenda

| Text and photo: Berit Kvam

“No youths should be left to their own devices for longer periods of time,” Danish Noemi Katznelson told Nordic labour ministers when she presented her latest research in Copenhagen recently. Marginalised youths and work were the themes for discussion between the ministers and the social partners, with a focus on preventative measures against unemployment.

“One of the challenges we have in the Nordics is how to help young teenagers find a foothold through interaction between education and the labour market. The discussion has been very valuable,” Jørn Neergaard Larsen tells the Nordic Labour Journal. He has been Minister for Employment in Denmark’s Venstre-led government since June 2015.

Denmark holds this year’s Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers, and he is hosting the meeting which would debate both the EU’s mobility package, social dumping and youth unemployment. The ministers briefed each other about the current situation in their respective countries, about political initiatives for employment and about refugees and integration.

When it comes to refugee politics, we definitely have a lot to learn from Denmark, says Norway’s Minister of Labour and Social Inclusion, Robert Eriksson.

Time limit for living and a dual approach

“When it comes to the job I am doing right now, where we are making important cuts to our welfare provisions, Denmark has chosen a dual approach which we will take a closer look at in Norway. It involves not being allowed access to ordinary welfare benefits before you have lived in the country for seven or eight years, and a lower level for those who have not fulfilled the time requirement. This is something we are considering in Norway and we are looking at new ways of implementing this.”

Joint statement to the EU

The debate on the EU’s mobility package and the coordination of social security systems prepared the ground for a statement to the EU Commission.

“Our conversations about regulation number 883 provided input for a joint letter to EU Commissioner Thyssen to make her aware of the issues which we as a group feel is most important,” says Jørn Neergaard Larsen.

“This is an illustration of the fact that we can meet over shared interests and present our joint wishes to the Commission. If the Nordic countries get together and argue well for what we feel is important, our voices are heard in the EU.”

“I also feel we have had good discussions about our welfare systems,” Norway’s Minister of Labour and Social Inclusion, Robert Eriksson, tells the Nordic Labour Journal.

“All of the ministers are positive to not expanding the time people are allowed to take unemployment benefits out of the country from three to six months. These are positive signals which you agree on in order to protect Nordic welfare politics.”

The debate on social dumping, proper working conditions and expectations to the EU Commission’s revision of Directive 96/71 EF on the posting of workers did not lead to any joint actions. 

“Our debate today on regulation 883 was a really good one where we quickly and without complications found out what we could agree on and present to the EU. This is something we ought to do when we are able to, of course, but we must also respect that in other situations the different Nordic countries will have different interests — for example whether or not to open the directive on the posting of workers. That is the nature of politics,” says Jørn Neergaard Larsen.

Fighting youth unemployment 

Ahead of the formal meeting of ministers, they met the social partners to debate marginalise youths and employment. Researcher Noemi Katznelson from the Centre for Youth Research at Aalborg University opened the session by presenting a piece of research called ‘Marginalised youths and their motivation for education and work’. She drew attention to current trends, including the increasing polarisation among young people;  some create a career for themselves at a very early age, others fall outside of society early. 

Another trend is that a majority of young people feel they can rely on parents to back them up, yet this makes it even harder for marginalised youths. Expectations from schools and the labour market are also becoming higher and narrower. With these trends in mind, she underlined the necessity of focusing on the individual. Young people not in education, employment or training — or NEETs — make up a very complex group where you find many different personal and academic problems. 

Noemi Katznelson’s findings focus on how you manage to motivate young people who lack motivation for an education — if that is the goal. One of her conclusions is that a regular education with normal conditions is not a realistic goal for everyone. On the contrary, it increases the problems because it leads to defeat after defeat. 

Noemi Katznelson defines motivation as a result of the interaction between the young people and the situations they find themselves in, and not a precondition for participation. She has also defined different motivational orientations as a basis for working with motivation. These can work together and change over time. They are not normative. There is no good or bad motivation, but you could get an imbalance in how much emphasis is put on the different motivational orientations. She warns against leaving the young people to their own devises over longer periods of time, and underlines that strong individual factors determine whether the young person is motivated or is caught by a ‘drive’.

“The study shows good results can be achieved when you plan a path which prepares those ready for an education for that education, and you can maintain really good results if one mentor sticks with the young people when they stumble along the way — because they will,” says Noemi Katznelson.

This is where the social partners came in, represented by General Secretary Magnus Gissler and President Bente Sorgenfrey from The Council of Nordic Trade Unions (NFS), and Director General Jacob Holbraad at the Confederation of Danish Employers (DA). All were very interested in helping getting marginalised teenagers into working life. 

The partners want a seat at the table

“These are shared challenges. We are facing major socio-economical challenges if these young people can’t get jobs. When it comes to the social partners, I feel we could also discuss these issues during collective agreement negotiations, for instance mentor jobs. How you create space for mentors both in the public and private sectors, and how you finance this,” Bente Sorgenfrey told the Nordic Labour Journal.

“The social partners in the Nordic region have always been included in the face of major changes. We need to remember that. This has not happened during the crisis, when the social partners have been kept in the dark to a certain extent. I think it is time to sit down and try to come up with ideas together for how we solve our current challenges.”

Director General Jacob Hobraad, DA, agreed to the proposal for introducing mentors in working life. He also emphasised the need in the short run to help get young people who have often struggled in elementary school into working life, by allowing them to do practical work which gives them skills which can be used in the labour market. He warned against focusing too much on education.

“Not because we are against education, but because many leave elementary school feeling they have suffered defeat upon defeat. In the long term, in order to avoid too many to fall into the NEET group in future, I believe it is important to create an elementary school which prepares young people for education. Too many leave elementary school with qualifications which are not good enough,” said Jacob Holbraad.

The debate inspired new thoughts

“It is interesting that despite our different levels of youth unemployment, many ministers raised the problem that not enough young people take a vocational education. We have a great need for getting young people to choose and to be aware of these occupations, and this is a challenge that we share,” Ylva Johannsson told the Nordic Labour Journal. She considered the opportunities which can be found in a cooperation with the social partners.

“I was just thinking that we perhaps could do something with the partners in trades where there is a need for labour today, and even more so in the future, so that young people can become aware of these occupations.”

Sweden’s Minister for Employment made a point of telling her Nordic colleagues how she step by step had managed to reduce youth unemployment, which now has fallen considerably and which keeps falling.

The researcher was fired up by that discussion too:

“I find it interesting to hear that many labour ministers are actually interested in more things than I had expected, and in what is happening in the educational system — not just within the labour market. They point out that with today’s challenges it is necessary to cooperate across political divides and down through the education system,” she said. 

“Usually politicians often think political strategy. You have to take into account the individual. This was also made clear in several of the speeches. But it is important to remember, and to look for, the differences. It seems you have solutions for certain groups, but it is more difficult to find solutions which target individuals,” said Noemi Katznelson.

Magnus Gissler og Bente Sorgenfrey

Magnus Gissler og Bente Sorgenfrey participated at the labour ministers' meeting

Refugees must find work as fast as possible

The social partners, NFS and DA, were also invited to present their view of the refugee situation in the Nordic region. The partners agreed that it is important to integrate the refugees into the labour market as soon as possible.

Magnus Geissler, NFS, felt the Nordic region had a responsibility to exchange good experiences when it comes to the integration of refugees, just like information on youth unemployment is shared. 

“We understand the many political interests at play, that it is more difficult to find joint Nordic solutions and that Nordic workers are nervous. But we feel that the collective agreements we have can help lift the newly arrived into our societies.”

The fear of refugees undermining the labour market is a very good reason for NFS to get involved, things Bente Sorgenfrey:

“That is why it is important to include the social partners in the discussions, because we are not interested in a conflict which would help undermine the collective agreements we already have, and which perhaps would create more antipathy among wage earners if they see that the solutions which emerge only help undermine conditions. So it is very important to find solutions which involve the social partners in those discussions.”

General Director Holbraad, DA, agreed that the starting point must be to get refugees into the labour market as soon as possible. There is a need to map refugees’ skills, and there needs to be a fast track for those who have found jobs themselves, so that they can move to where that job is rather than stay in an asylum centre. Individual municipalities are very focused on jobs when the decision is made that refugees will be living there, he felt.

Nordic agreement on cuts

“I understand very well that Sweden faces a challenging situation, and that a breaking point has been reached. But it is not the case that other countries are passing their problems over to Sweden, on the contrary. Norway faces considerable challenges when it comes to migration. And in my opinion, the level of challenges Sweden now faces does relate to the politics which has been carried out there previously,” Norway’s Minister of Labour and Social Inclusion, Robert Eriksson, told the Nordic Labour Journal. But he points out that everyone is feeling the pressure.

“I feel all of the Nordic countries which are now seeing the refugee situation close up, both Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, understand the challenges it brings and see that there is a limit to how many you can receive. This is something all the countries have come to realise.

“The consequence is that you cannot accept the numbers of refugees which are arriving, you have to send a signal that we cannot receive all of them in a satisfactory manner, and that there are other ways of helping. We need to help more people where they are, and we need better cooperation with the rest of Europe.”

Nordic conference on migration and integration in 2016

The integration of refugees into the labour market is one of the important issues right now, says the Finnish Minister of Justice and Employment, Jari Lindström from the Sipiläs government.

“This is a completely new situation for Finland,” he says.

“Finland is not used to receiving refugees. That is why I am very interested in hearing how the other Nordic countries deal with the challenges, and I feel the discussions at the ministers’ meeting have been very interesting. This is the issue which interests everyone now,” he tells the Nordic Labour Journal, and underlines that Finland too is very interested in Denmark’s politics.

“Denmark is very close to Finland in these matters, while the Swedes have completely different traditions. But what really matters is what the EU does, and they are not able to find answers to these problems,” he says.

“There are almost 350,000 unemployed people in Finland. We have received 30,000 refugees, but only a few of them will be allowed to stay. We don’t know what qualifications they have, whether they can start their own businesses for instance.”

Jari Lindström says he fears potential conflicts between the many unemployed and the newly arrived.

“This is already in the air in Finland. The Paris terror has made a difficult situation worse. Finland will help those who arrive and who are in need of help, but not those who come to Finland to seek a better future.”

Finland takes over the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2016, with the slogan ‘Water, nature and people’. They are organising a conference on migration and integration in the spring. In may the Presidency stage an experts’ seminar on working life and physical disabilities. There will be a Nordic work environment conference on risk based inspections in June and a conference on new ways of working, which forms part of the contribution to the ILO’s ‘the Future of Work Centenary Initiative’ in September.

The Nordic Ministers of Labour met on November 17, 2015
From left at picture above: Senior Advisor Ingi Valeur, General Secretary Dagfinn Høybråten and ministers Henrik Old, Robert Eriksson, Jari Lindström, Jørn Neergaard Larsen, Ylva Johansson

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