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Wages for foreign construction workers: reaches record level

An agreement between 3F and the employers at Metro Cityringen ensures record-high hourly wages and a 37-hours working week for foreign construction workers

The construction of the Metro in Copenhagen has over the years been notoriously known for it’s many cases of underpayment of foreign workers, but with a new agreement in place, main contractor Copenhagen Metro Team (CMT) raises the wages for foreign construction workers tremendously. 

The agreement ensures a rate of 273 kr/hour for masonry work, which is a record-high wage level for foreign construction workers.

So says Jonas Andersen, union secretary in 3F’s branch for Construction, Earth and Environmental Workers in Copenhagen (BJMF).

-As far as I know, this is the highest wages ever for foreign workers in Denmark. It’s on a level higher than the average salary for a Danish mason, Jonas Andersen says.

-But to us the most important part of the agreement is that foreign construction workers are chosen on basis of quality and speed, and not because they are cheaper and have lower costs of living and worse conditions in their home country, Jonas Andersen continues.

The agreement is on trial basis and has been worked out between the main contractor at Metro Cityringen, Italian consortium Copenhagen Metro Team and BJMF, and applies specifically to the tile work in granite and natural stone on floors and staircases on Cityringen’s 17 new stations. 

It’s primarily mason workers from Italy and Eastern Europe who benefit from the high hourly wages.

Development at the metro

There is no documentation of the wage level for foreign workers in Danish construction through the years.

In comparison to the 273 kr/hour, which the new agreement ensures, a Danish mason’s so-called “together wage” is at the moment just below 210kr/hour. “Together wage” is an average of the hourly rate and the piecework rate.

Jens Arnholtz, lecturer at Employment Relations Research Centre (FAOS) at the Univercity of Copenhagen, has never before heard of such high wage level for foreign workers, unless concerning specialised assignments.

-An hourly rate of 273 kr is very high in the construction field, especially for unskilled work. Typically we see that foreign workers from countries like Rumania, Polen and sometimes Italy, work for the lowest rates in the union agreements, Jens Armholtz says.

In his opinion a positive development has been undergoing at the Copenhagen metro construction since 2011.

-The wages were low in the beginning and many worked more hours that they got paid for. But CMT has realised now the union is worth collaborating with, so the wages have gradually increased. But not anywhere near the level to which the masons have reached, the lecturer says.

Wanted flexibility

The context of the exceptional wage agreement is a combination of lack of labour force and the strict demands regarding piecework, overtime work and diploma, which are specified in the masons union agreement.

-We wanted more flexibility than the union agreement for masons normally allow, deputy director at CMT says and continues:

-One of our Italian companies, Bodino, wanted the possibility to work with their own employees, but the Italian masons are usually peer-to-peer educated and do not hold a diploma. But they can still be very talented. They are also not used to piecework. The construction union BJMF has accepted that it is foreign mason work men without diplomas who work hard to ready the metro stations for opening this summer.

Bearable working hours

In return, the employers at the metro must stretch to secure decent wages and work conditions for their employees.

This means, apart from the high wages, that the employers renounce from the opportunity to make the workers work overtime.

The working week is 37 hours, and when work is carried out in shifts, a significant bonus is given on top: 65 kr for working in the evening and 115 kr for working at night.

-When we made the agreement, there were not many Danish masons available, and we had a hard time finding the people we needed. It has always been an important matter for us to reduce the working hours,, and we wanted to show that bearable working hours can be combined with working on such a big and profiled project as the metro, union secretary Jonas Andersen from BJMF says.

Many of the union cases against the metro have concerned extensive underpayment in connection to overtime work.

Both BJMF and Copenhagen Metro Team welcomes the wage agreement.

-We understand that there are some of the rights in the union agreements, which the union protects. On the other hand, an agreement like this is beneficial for the employers, as it gives us increased flexibility and opportunity to step on it to reach our deadlines, Sigurd Nissen-Petersen from Copenhagen Metro Team says.

Translated from Fagbladet 3F (www.fagbladet3f.dk)