Recently, there was a small, low-key announcement in the Danish media. Amidst all this talk of the global economic crisis, and indeed Obama’s own no-outsourcing threat, the Danish Ministry of Economics and Business Affairs made a startling statement. It has proposed Denmark’s first program to help foreign professionals – the National Network for Foreign Employees. The aim? To ensure foreign workers stay longer by making the country more of a “home” than an expatriate stopover. The 4.5 million kroner (US$800,441) state-funded initiative raised predictable outrage, with furious discussion among Danes and expatriates alike sparking across online forums.
As unemployment in Denmark expected to rise in 2010, the announcement was regarded as a bit ill-timed. Why is Denmark trying so hard to keep its foreign employees happy? There are no shortages of accolades for Denmark, which has one of the highest standards of living in the world – it is widely regarded as the most networked economy, the happiest country, and the least corrupt. Its capital, Copenhagen, has earned the moniker “world’s most livable city.” But, it also appears the country is also one of the best places to lose your job. The government offers the most substantial unemployment benefits in the world – up to 90% of prior earnings for almost 48 months.
Nevertheless, expatriates have frequently complained about the high taxes, language barriers and a perceived anti-foreigner sentiment in the Danish society. In response, the government is bending backwards to integrate foreign workers into the mainstream society, even ensuring they get the best jobs. “We do not want citizens from other countries to be employed in second class jobs with less favorable pay and working conditions,” states a government website.
This, despite figures that show that unemployment has been rising steadily since September 2007 – with the latest February figures showing almost 70,000 people out of work. But the government remains hungry for foreign labor, particularly specialist workers in the field of science and technology, medicine, nursing and engineering. Without these foreign workers, almost 40,000 highly skilled positions may lie unfulfilled by 2015. Although the country has a dearth of native workers ready to step up, in reality, they don’t include the skilled workers needed to fill the gap. The Danish government needs these skilled foreign workers and believes the National Network for Foreign Employees is a step in the right direction.
The country’s national anthem begins with the poetic words, “der er et yndigt land,” which translate into English as “a lovely land.” Now, Danish officials are hoping that foreign workers will start singing the same tune. But the question remains-Will the famously ‘individualistic Danes’ open up?
Postcards from Around the World
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