Norway is focusing more and more on internationalization of education. We can divide the students coming to Norway simply in two categories: one with students that gets some financial support from any source; and the second which is self-financed students.
When these students do not have any background in Norwegian language, they remain with two options; news paper distribution and cleaning. Students who receive some kind of scholarship also start working after some time, because the cost of living in Norway is very high compared to their home countries.
Øystein Eriksen, Labour Inspector in Oslo, says that there is no specific data available for how many international students that are specifically working in the cleaning industry, but he confirms that when people from other nationalities work with employers in Norway, one of major factors that create challenge is their unfamiliarity with the rules and regulations.
One of the things that Øystein also points out, is a common phenomenon used by most of the employers in the cleaning business. He says that employers usually give an approximate time period of cleaning a building, for example claiming that one particular floor will take 1.5 hours to clean, so the payment is given only for 1.5 hours to the worker. What happens in reality is that the actual time needed to clean the floor is two hours or more, but the cleaners will not get paid for the extra time they use. This has been confirmed by the administration in University of Tromsø and several students studying at HiOA.
In the cases where the cleaners ask to increase the time limit or reduce the workload for that particular time period, their efficiency is questioned. Therefore, in such situations, even if they feel that they should be paid more or that the working conditions should change, they remain quiet. Additionally, if any of them is willing to file a case – it is very expensive and time consuming.
Considering the cost of living in Norway, and the possible economic, physical and mentally burdens having a job like cleaning may result in – it becomes tiresome and inconvenient to work against the system to try and fight for your rights. So eventually, most of the cases remain unreported.Øystein, the Labor Inspector in Oslo, firmly states that it is important to be associated with the labour union in order to not to be exploited, as the unions have expertise in dealing with such issues and to insure the rights of the workers.
As the major part of international students in Norway does not receive any external financial support, this kind of working conditions in the cleaning industry, as one of the few industries where no particular skill set is required, puts some barriers to the purpose of ensuring the welfare also for international students in Norway. The Norwegian society is known for its value system about equality, and we can only hope that this not-so-clean cleaning industry will be cleaner, more transparent and support the international students in a more dignified way in the future.