Villa Eika, where the Student Parliament offices are. Archive photo: Adrian Nielsen
Villa Eika, where the Student Parliament offices are. Archive photo: Adrian Nielsen

Are students letting themselves be exploited?

On the 22 March the Student Parliament at UiO passed a resolution on educating the students about the Working Environment Act. What’s next?

The resolution was prepared by Internationalista, the party representing international students. It came as a response to Universitas’ recent series of articles revealing violations of the non-Norwegian workers’ rights at the Nighthawk Diner restaurant. According to Internationalista representative Tyler Barrott, making the university supply students with «the information they need to safely navigate through work life in Norway» is a «very important decision» and a «fantastic example of how the Student Parliament makes a difference in students’ lives.» The triumphant Facebook post about the vote said there was going to be a course. When asked for details and examples of how to implement the resolution, Barrott said he had thought about using flyers to spread information.

Poor choice of words

Is that enough? The resolution acknowledges that social dumping, when employers exploit international workers for cheap labor, is a global problem. It also states that UiO should not stand for its students «contributing to social dumping.» This only points the finger at students themselves – sorry for dumping ourselves right down that abuse hole, only making it deeper. It might only be a poor choice of words, but in cases like this semantics is so important. Barrott says his implication is simply that social dumping in Norway is not desirable, and he does not want UiO students to be exploited. Reality check: they will be. But it will not be their fault.

Know your social dumping

International students and workers in general are exploited because it is easy for employers to exploit them. Sure, not every employer is a tyrant, but they all face market competition. If some restaurants start cutting costs of employment, others have to cut them, too. It’s a race to the bottom. The solution? Make the punishments for doing that hurt more than whatever the company’s savings might be. That is the job of Arbeidstilsynet (the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority) and the unions. We cannot blame students for their lack of knowledge about the law, or language, or working ethics, especially not in the Student Parliament’s own resolution. If students know that Arbeidstilsynet has their back, they will not stand for exploitation. And yes, the first step is to get that message to the students, but giving information is far from providing actual support.

Show support

UiO has itself been accused of social dumping in the past. Teaching their students both how to recognize it and how to fight it would look good. Students do not work in a vacuum and they can spread the example. The Nighthawk Diner case should be used by the Student Parliament and other student welfare organizations as a flagship case. Offering concrete, public support to each and every exploited student will contribute much better than any flyer ever will.

Take our cases seriously. Write a statement. Put an actual person in front of us that will guide us through all the Norwegian procedures, Norwegian webpages, the fantastic Norwegian free legal aid. Then we will be unafraid to report the exploitation to the Arbeidstilsynet. Indirectly blaming us for contributing to the situation we found ourselves in is not the way to go.