In most Danish workplaces, it is things like skill or experience that determine whether employees should be paid more than their colleagues.
However, this principle did not apply to Polish John, who until very recently was employed as a crane operator at Denmark's largest construction contractor Per Aarsleff A / S. (John is an alias, as he wishes to be anonymous.)
John discovered one day that he received a much lower salary than his Danish colleagues. Allegedly because, he paid for renting a home that he had never lived in and had never intended to move into.
John was paid with a basic salary of 140 kroner per hour, while his Danish colleagues at Per Aarsleff A/S construction sites in Copenhagen were paid with a basic salary of 175 kroner per hour.
- I was very confused when I found out. I did not understand why I should have a lower salary than the Danes, because we did exactly the same thing, John tells A4 Arbejdsliv.
- I could understand if there was a difference of five or ten kroner on our basic salary, but 35 kroner per hour. I think that is quite a lot, says John.
When John was employed by Aarsleff, he had over five years of experience as a crane driver, and was also a shop steward in the company.
Over several days, A4 Arbejdsliv has sought to get Per Aarsleff to talk about the practice in which Polish employees are apparently drawn in salary for housing.
A4 Arbejdsliv has also asked the company why it is not possible for the employees to be compensated for the costs of accommodation, and why it does not appear from their payslip how much of the salary goes to rent.
Per Aarsleff did not want to comment on the article.
- Move down to the camp
A4 Arbejdsliv has seen several payslips stating that John's basic salary was DKK 140 per hour while he was employed by Per Aarsleff A / S.
In addition, as a crane driver, he received a bonus that brought his salary up to almost 165 kroner per hour.
At the same time, A4 Arbejdsliv has seen payslips from Danish employees at Per Aarsleff A / S. The payslips state that the Danish employees' basic salary is DKK 175 per hour.
According to A4 Arbejdsliv's information, however, the salary for Danish employees is often much higher - between 200 and 285 kroner per hour.
In the spring, John confronted his immediate manager and asked why he was paid less than his Danish colleagues.
- I was told that we got a lower salary because the company makes housing available to us Polish employees, says John.
Homes that, as A4 Arbejdsliv has previously described, consist of shacks, where several hundred Eastern European employees are divided in pairs into rooms of a few square meters.
However, John had no intention of moving down to the shed town, as he has lived in Denmark for eight years with his wife and cat in an apartment on Amager.
- So I asked if I could not get the money paid out instead, or if they could pay some of my rent instead, says John.
According to John, the leader of Per Aarsleff A/S did not agree with that.
- He almost laughed at me, and said that I could not get money, but that I was then welcome to move down to the camp with the others, says John.
- I felt like they were making fun of me. I have a nice apartment that I pay rent for and a family that I have to take care of. Why on earth should we be interested in moving into a shack ?, John asks rhetorically.
The phenomenon of different salaries for Danish and Polish employees in Per Aarsleff A / S is not limited to John's case.
In July, the trade magazine 3F reported on the Polish concrete worker Krzysztof Wanarski, who received DKK 52 less per hour than his Danish colleague August Hentze, while they both worked on Per Aarsleffs A/S 'construction sites in Copenhagen.
In the article, Jesper Kristian Jakobsen, CEO of Per Aarsleff A/S, explained that Danes and Poles are not paid differently.
According to the director, the Poles are deducted money for the homes that Per Aarsleff A/S makes available.
- To ensure that our foreign employees live in orderly and proper conditions, we have chosen to make these available and pay the cost for this. If you put this expense on top of the salary, then you reach the same salary level as their Danish colleagues, it sounded at the time from the director of Fagbladet 3F.
(The difference between Danes and Poles is a minimum of DKK 36 per hour. They work 55 hours a week, for four weeks at a time. This is a total of DKK 7,300 per month.)
At that time, Per Aarsleff A/S did not answer whether the employees could opt out of housing and receive the same salary as their Danish colleagues.
The union 3F is critical of the fact that employers include housing and other factors in the salaries of their foreign employees.
- It results in an unequal relationship, where the employee is firstly deeply dependent on his employer, and secondly has a very hard time figuring out his salary, says Palle Bisgaard, vice chairman of 3F Byggegruppen.
These are terms that I am generally very unhappy about, and which are reminiscent of something resembling slavery, says Palle Bisgaard.
At the local 3F department BJMF, trade union secretary Jakob Mathiesen also criticizes the housing conditions that John and other Polish employees are offered.
Especially in light of the situation with coronavirus, where in recent times several outbreaks of coronavirus have been found in camps where workers live close together.
- When you deduct people many thousands of kroner in salary to live close together in small rooms, which they are not even sure to keep when they go home on a visit, then there is something wrong, says Jakob Mathiesen.
- If there is COVID 19 infection, it can very quickly develop very unfortunately. I do not understand that Aarsleff wants to be responsible for these housing conditions, the professional secretary adds.
- I am disappointed
John is currently working on another construction project in Copenhagen, where he earns more than at Aarsleff.
He explains that he was originally proud and happy to have the opportunity to work for Per Aarsleff A/S, because in his eyes it was "a large and important company".
- I'm not like that anymore. I am honestly disappointed with the way I have been treated, says John.
- There is a tendency for Poles and other Eastern Europeans to be seen as someone who just wants to go to Denmark and make some quick money. But there are many of us who live in Denmark and who are part of society, and therefore I do not understand that it is okay to treat us differently, says the crane driver.