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Black market cleaning a major problem for Norway's cleaning industry

Black market cleaning a major problem for Norway's cleaning industry

| Text: Björn Lindahl, Photo: Cata Portin

Are staffing agencies just one step on the road towards an even more flexible labour marked, where those performing services become their own employers? NHO Service, the employers' organisation for Norway's cleaning industry, is sounding the alarm over an increase in cleaning businesses from 2,000 to 6,500 over just a few years.

"You could ask how foreigners arriving in Norway immediately know how to set up a company. I suspect they have simply signed a piece of paper without knowing what they're doing. At the same time they've signed away their rights to unfair dismissal protection, holidays and sick pay," says Kjell Edvard Fixdal who was asked by NHO Service to map the spread of unserious work among Norwegian cleaning companies. The information was used to demand the general application of the collective agreement for workers in the cleaning industry. A decision on this application is expected soon.

"Since both employers, trade unions and the minister of labour thinks there should be a general application of the agreement it is nearly 100 percent certain that it will happen," says Petter Furulund, head of NHO Service.

When Kjell Edvard Fixdal examined the trade he came across a company called  Renholdsentralen. It wanted to build a network of a thousand cleaners who'd all be sole traders. They would work as sub-contractors to Renholdsentralen which would earn provision by getting the sole traders to work for free one hour a day.

When Nordic Labour Journal tries to contact Renholdsentralen and talk to Erik Bosheim, supposedly the company's leader, it turns out the company has already ceased to exist.

"I quickly pulled out when I understood this was all stuff and nonsense," he says.

"It is possible it would have been feasible to organise the company like that, but not in today's climate within the Norwegian cleaning industry. Our starting point was that those signing an agreement with Renholdsentralen would earn at least as much as what is agreed in the collective agreement. But far too many players are not serious," he says.

A survey from the Norwegian market research agency Opinion shows the Norwegian cleaning industry's annual turnover is five billion Kroner (€6.4m). 46 percent of private purchasers of cleaning services say they pay cash in hand. That's the equivalent of 100,000 households. This survey backs up earlier calculations from Norwegian tax authorities. 

In Norway, unlike in Sweden and Finland, there are no tax breaks for the use of household services.


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