Category Archives: The WatchDog

Is security in Europe threatened by operations against IS?

As the US-led coalition slowly but surely expands its operations to fight back the Islamic State (IS), concerns over national security have risen in a region far broader than the Middle East. YouTube videos of Western IS fighters fuel the fear that these fighters will return to their home countries to continue the fight there. Therefore, although many argue that the existence of Islamic State in itself is a threat to national security, participating in the military operation against IS could create even larger, more direct security risks.

Counterterrorism
In order to prevent extremists from attacking civilian or governmental targets, counterterrorist measures have been taken across Europe. In the Netherlands, for example, after a Dutch jihad fighter posted a YouTube video in which he called for ‘severe action against the Dutch government’, military personnel has been advised not to wear their uniform when traveling with public transportation. In August, the United Kingdom raised its terror threat from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe’. Schools in Belgium and The Netherlands canceled field trips to, respectively, Brussels and Paris, out of fear for possible terrorist attacks.

The desire to join armed forces in foreign countries is nothing new. In the past, foreign fighters have joined armed groups in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Somalia, to name a few. The motivation to do so can range from a sense of solidarity with the fighters to a strong sense of not belonging in the home country. In a Dutch documentary that follows several jihad fighters, one of them explains: “I could finally go to a place where I can be myself.” Across Europe, (Islamic) immigrants face difficulties integrating in their new societies. For some, this lack of integration, sometimes combined with discrimination and few economic opportunities, might be the final push toward jihadism. Others feel a strong sense of solidarity with fellow Muslims in Syria and Iraq, that urges them to fight back. After three years of civil war in Syria, and with the chaos in Iraq fresh in their minds, they have lost all trust in the Western policy in the Middle East. In a report on Dutch TV show Nieuwsuur, a jihadist explains the sense of betrayal he shares with many of his comrades: “It’s too much. Too many millions have been killed by these useless wars of America and their coalition.”

Ideology
Another common feature many foreign jihad fighters share, is their ideology. Many of them follow the same form of Islam that terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and IS, propagate: radical Salafism. Salafists follow the first three generations of Muslims (including the Prophet Mohamed) as strict as possible. Salafism, Dutch Islamologist Joas Wagemakers explains, is generally very peaceful, and most followers oppose revolutions such as those that occurred during the ‘Arab Spring’. Radical, or Jihadi, Salafists, disagree with this perspective. Wagemakers: “Socially, Jihadi Salafists are very strict, but politically, they hold radical views. They embrace the idea of revolutions, they do use violence.” This ideological background is important not only in understanding IS, but the foreign fighters as well. Although a small minority of Western Muslims adhere to Salafism, and an even smaller part of them follows Jihadi Salafism, most Western jihad fighters are radical Salafists.

Leaving the battlefield
Although analysts argue that the battle with IS could take years, Western politicians and policy makers have already shown deep concern with the homecoming of jihad fighters. And indeed, some of them might not wait until the end of the war to leave the battlefield. However, it is not set in stone that they actually will return to their home countries. In fact, researchers found a total of eight possible paths foreign fighters can follow after their battle has ended. First of these is, of course, death. The other seven can be categorized under three travel routes: to stay in the country they were fighting in, to return to their home country and to travel to a non-Western country. In each of these locations, there is the possible outcome of a peaceful integration into society. The other outcomes include terrorist actions and, in the case of traveling to a non-Western country, fighting in other conflicts. This latter option might be the most dangerous one. It creates stateless jihadists, who travel from conflict to conflict and cause fear and instability in all countries they visit.

Home sweet home: warm welcome or cold shower?
Obviously, jihad fighters do not get the VIP treatment upon returning home. Several countries in the Western world have announced that they will prosecute members of terrorist organizations currently fighting in Syria or Iraq. Belgium, in fact, already started a similar lawsuit – against no less than 46 of its inhabitants. The suspects are accused of membership of Sharia4Belgium,  but some of them are currently fighting on the Syrian battlefields. If convicted then, a return to Belgium could therefore result in incarceration. Denmark, on the other hand, has taken an unusual stand in its response to jihad fighting countrymen. The Scandinavian country has proposed a deal to Danish jihadists: return now, and you will not be prosecuted. The condition to this deal? The jihadists must enter a rehabilitation program, in which physical wounds and psychological traumas are treated. Crime prevention adviser Steffen Nielsen told Al Jazeera: “Unlike in England, where maybe you’re detained for a week while they figure out who you are, we say ‘Do you need any help?’”

There is no questioning the fact that the battles currently taking place in the Middle East create a threat to national security in countries thousands of kilometers away – especially if they are part of the ‘coalition of the willing’. The severity and source of this threat, however, must be reviewed carefully. Homegrown extremists without any intention of traveling to the scene of the conflict itself, might form a more eminent threat than returning jihadists. Furthermore, these returning jihadists do not necessarily have the intentions of planning a terrorist attack in their home countries.

By Lisanne Oldekamp

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Advertisements

The pastor, the impersonator and the plastic surgeon: Brazil’s crazy election candidates

png;base64a61478ce120347ac
YOU MIGHT BE aware that the first round of Brazilian elections takes place on the 5th, but a second runoff (among the two leading candidates) is already planned for the 26th. This means 142 million people will be directed to polls, even if abroad. Two reasons cause the sudden patriotism: the obligation to vote for those between 16 and 70 years of age – there are sanctions for those who do not comply – and the desperate need to spare oneself from ridicule. As you will catch on during upcoming list, there are abounding reasons of shame (and laughter!) among the candidates for the highest offices. Ladies and gentlemen, Brazil’s ‘finest’.

A matter of faith

The number of candidates for federal deputy who are presented with religious titles – such as priest, pastor, missionary, bishop and others – grew 54% in the 2014 elections, says a report by Electoral Court. If, on the one hand, this might seem like a threat to a secular state, on the other it provides us such pearls as:

image00

Clark Crente: Yes, it sounds like Clark Kent in Portuguese too. Only it translates “Clark the Believer”. This Superman spin-off wants to protect the Christian Family from horrible threats, such as infidelity. Bible quotes make up the story line.

Jesus: No need for further introduction.

Toninho do Diabo: Translating to “Tony of the Devil”, this self proclaimed “ambassador of Lucifer on Earth” and Trash Cinema star wants to spice things up in the capital Brasília. “Brasília is hell, and that is the place for the devil’s son”, he claims.

 

Celebrities ‘R’ us

A popular anecdote says “Talk well, talk badly, but talk about me”. This is even more true when campaigns roll.

Kid Bengala: “Walking Stick” Kid isn’t movement impaired, quite the contrary. The nickname humorously refers to the attribute of the country’s renowned porn star.

Doctor Rey: “Superstar” plastic surgeon Robert Rey – a.k.a. Doctor Hollywood – is another C-lister running for congress. While specializing himself in fixing and “improving” butts, boobs and faces for actresses and models,  Rey also opposes gender reassignment surgery since “What god has made, the hands of man can’t change”. Oh the irony!

Marcos Pontes: While by far a more serious candidate than the aforementioned Rey and Bengala, Pontes is another one of those cases where political experience was not the party’s deciding factor. Instead, Pontes got his go at congressman because he is the first brazilian astronaut. Amusingly his campaign has nothing to do with space, astronauts or any of that – so no spacesuit on electoral period, I’m afraid.

Former BBBs: Former participants in the Brazilian edition of Big Brother are a common sight in the electoral period. This year there are four – or five if you count current congressman Jean Wyllys, running for a second term. While Wyllys has been widely considered one of the best congressman in the country, it is yet to be seen if lightning will strike twice in the same place (or reality show).Footballers – Romario has been a fortunate choice in the past. Future options look much more grimm.

mjagger

Knockoffs

In the lack own fame, how about using the notoriety of other people? Impersonators and lookalikes also compete. Jackie Chan, Bin Laden…. both Batman and Robin are looking for alternative jobs. Characters from Japan to Mexico appear in prime time television to cheer up otherwise boring campaign programming.

Fobama

The presidential hippie

Eduardo Jorge is a presidential candidate. Although polls indicate that he has no real chance of getting elected, his campaign has taken over the internet and became a notorious phenomenon. His jingle would make Bob Marley proud.

He talks on the legalization of marijuana, and on the incentive of  cycling as an alternative for the mobility crisis:

If things seem confusing and entertaining to you, imagine to these poor folk who have been putting up with these ads since July. There are so many candidates to choose from (and to be chosen), that Brazilians are allowed a cheat-sheet with the list of candidate numbers. Good call – considering there are a president, 81 senators, more than 500 federal deputies, hundreds of state representatives and 27 state governors to be hired.

A hint to Brazilian voters: no use on hitting the streets, standing pepper spray and tear gas, only to leave the brain at home when voting time comes. Good luck and wisdom to all.

…and a bonus video to cheer you up. No need to understand the language to have a blast.


A Disclaimer: the list was brought together by two of Pandeia’s Brazilian contributors, and has no intention of personally attacking mentioned candidates of fellow countrymen. Have some humour, people!

Written by Scheila Farias Silveira and Pedro Henrique Leal.

Scheila Farias Silveira is a Brazilian journalist, currently based in Germany. She is a public affairs specialist working with sustainability, corporate social responsibility and social management.

Pedro Henrique Leal is a brazilian journalist and human rights activist, currently based in Wales. He writes mostly about human rights and social issues for independent websites À Margem and Coletivo Metranca.

The other side of the conflict: conversing with a Russian friend

 

Nadia's photo

I FIRST MET Nadia in the city of Toronto during the summer of 2008. Back then the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia were being occupied by Russian troops and today, six years later, Russia is being accused of invading Eastern Ukraine. During the time Nadia and I shared in Canada, we discussed the Russo-Georgian war and many other related topics over lunch. I was interested in hearing her perspective on the current crisis.

I found her point of view particularly interesting not only because she is a Russian citizen who is currently living in the country, also because being fluent in English and Chinese as she is, she has worked and studied in China, Canada and South Africa, among other places. In other words, few people understand the West and the East the way she does.

First of all, I would like to know whether you consider you are receiving proper information from your government regarding the conflict in Ukraine and Russia’s participation in it.

– I do believe that during a war no one actually receives proper information. We all only see what our governments want us to see and that’s not something exclusive to Russian society. The news that you watch in Spain and the news that I watch in Russia are totally different. And how you and I perceive the news is also different. For you, as well as for the greater part of the world, it is ‘yet another conflict’ taking place in some remote country. For me, as well as for most Russians, it is a war in which my friends and relatives die and get hurt. I do take it personally, and so it is hard to keep calm and objective.

The Western world portrays Russia as an invader. On your TV screens you can see Russian troops and military forces all over Ukraine. We in Russia see the war between Ukrainian national forces and forces of the Ukrainian opposition, in which many ethnic Russians die or get hurt and they are our relatives, or our friends, or our friends’ relatives. I cannot say that politics is one of my strong points so my understanding of what is happening is very limited, but the general idea of what I, as an average Russian, would get from the news here is that the current Ukrainian government is rather confused and basically does not know what to do next; that Russia is trying her best to help reconcile the two parts of the conflict; and that European and American news lie.

Now, which news source is really lying? I don’t know. And you don’t know. And I don’t think we will ever know. I think in such circumstances one should not believe any mass media since during a war everybody lies.

Back in July, the USA and the EU imposed sweeping economic sanctions on Russia in response to her involvement in Ukraine. The Russian government retaliated banning certain imports from those countries who took part in the sanctions. Have these measures affected your everyday life?

To be honest, not really. But it does not mean that all Russians are totally okay with the change. There might be somebody who is suffering because they cannot buy their favourite sort of Dutch pears any more. I would say there are many factors to be considered in this regard, starting with one’s geographical location and finishing with one’s income level. There was a big discussion regarding these sanctions and there were different opinions on the matter.  And I, as well as many Russians I know, believe these sanctions are fair in an “eye for eye” view of things.

Going back to the negative effect it might have had, my opinion is based on my personal experience. I personally have not experienced any difficulties or inconveniences caused by these sanctions. However, I live in the far East of the country and it is really, really far out: an 8 hour flight away from Moscow. We never had most of these banned imports anyway. In that region nothing changed. A couple of weeks ago I visited my friends in Moscow and St. Petersburg and one of them said that some fish became more expensive. But in general, I don’t think these sanctions have had a major effect on our lives.

What is your opinion, and what would you say is the general opinion where you are, regarding Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula?

I really do not see anything negative in this. And I do not think there are many Russians who would be unhappy about it. You must also remember that we never really perceived Ukraine as a foreign country, there is so much history and blood relations that connect Russia and Ukraine, especially Crimea and Sevastopol. The population in this region is mostly Russian; they willingly became part of Russia so I cannot see anything wrong with it.

While I’m writing these lines my best friend is enjoying her holidays in Crimea and she says it is great there and people are happy. No one was killed in the process of this very episode of the crisis and I would say that all parties involved are actually happy about how it all was resolved. The American government was not very happy though. I came across a very interesting article on the Internet in which the author could not understand the American government’s involvement in this Crimean issue. He said it was nearly ridiculous that the USA would interfere, as ridiculous as it would be if a region of Mexico voted to become part of the USA and Russians would interfere. And I agree with that. I think the fact that the rest of the world has a problem with recognising Crimea and Sevastopol as part of Russia responds merely to political reasons. For me, this region was never truly separated from Russia, if you look at its people throughout history.

Do you consider the pro-Russian rebels who are currently fighting in Donetsk and other parts of Eastern Ukraine as rightful Russian citizens who should be given the chance to join the country?

Yes, because the people of Ukraine and Russia are historically connected and many of us have relatives and friends in Ukraine and naturally vice versa. Given the amount of propaganda and hatred towards Russians that is being cultivated in Ukraine – no matter how the crisis would be resolved – I do not think that any Ukrainian born Russian or any person with a Russian surname would have a peaceful life in Ukraine. It does feel wrong and sorrowful to me but I do not think that there is anything that could be done to change that.

What is happening now has been happening for so long and has become so complicated that no one can give a reasonable explanation to it or predict how and when it will all end. All this will cause some sort of discrimination, or even a genocide in the long term, making it impossible for Russians -or as you call them pro-Russians- to live in Ukraine. And to answer your question, there are hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees in Russia now. And Russia will give a new home to every person from Ukraine who wishes to have one. And I think that is right, I think that is human.

Valentina Melnikova, president of “The Association of Mothers of Russian Soldiers”, estimates there are currently between 7000 and 8000 Russians fighting on Ukrainian soil. Have you heard of someone you know who’s been deployed there? What do you think about this sort of military involvement? Is it Russia’s duty to protect the rebels in Ukraine?

I don’t know of anyone who is currently fighting in Ukraine.  You never know what truth is so I would not take any current estimation as factual. The Internet is flooded with various rumours regarding Russian soldiers dying in Ukraine but I would not like to repeat the rumours: I believe one can only trust something he or she has personally experienced when it comes to war.

What do I think about this sort of military involvement? It is understandable for me if Russian people would want to go and fight for their families and friends who live in Ukraine. But as any sensible person, I think this war should stop. I think it should have never been started in the first place. It has always been beyond my understanding why people should kill people. Any war is wrong, but this particular conflict feels so wrong that I can hardly believe it is all really happening. I do not understand why people, regardless of their nationality, must pay with their lives and the lives of their loved ones for mistakes made by a group of greedy politicians.

The conflict was triggered by the violent protests that took place in Kiev last February, which managed to overthrow the government in what many viewed simply as a coup d’état fueled by the West. Would you say the USA and the EU are being somehow hypocritical denouncing other countries’ involvement in the region while supporting coups worldwide whenever they suit their interests?

I really do not feel that my knowledge of politics is anywhere close to judge such things. As I see it, every  government is hypocritical when they are trying to protect their interests. I think it is important for us to remember it. Our governments are hypocritical, the news that we watch is -if I may say so- ‘photo shopped’ according to our governments’ interests. And one of the negative side effects of this informational war is how we, people from different countries, let these things change our perception of each other.

I was on an international flight a week ago and there was a man from a Western country who sat next to me. There was a friendly chat between the two of us that lasted for a few minutes until I said I was Russian. After that this man just stopped talking to me, he turned away and acted as if I didn’t exist for the rest of the flight. Somehow it made me feel responsible for what my government does, or to be more precise, for what my government does according to his government’s news. I know I deviated from the question, but I feel it is important to say that we should not judge people on the basis of where they come from –  especially in such a tense international environment. We should not become victims of our governments’ hypocrisy.

Do you think the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine were at risk of being violated or damaged after the former Ukrainian government was overthrown?

I do believe so. And I do believe that ethnic Russians in Ukraine will not be able to live there peacefully.

Should the Ukrainian regions inhabited by a majority of ethnic Russians be granted the opportunity to join Russia the way Crimea did?

It is another question I feel uncomfortable answering because of my very weak political background. On one hand, if these regions joined Russia the way Crimea did, it might cause a second wave of sanctions and unhappy American and EU politicians, which would make this crisis even more complicated and reduce the chances for a peaceful settlement in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, it seems more than right to give Russians born in Ukraine an opportunity to live in Russia, to live peacefully with their loved ones in a country where they feel at home and are not hated for being of Russian descent.

 

To end this interview, I would like to briefly discuss with you a topic which has been pretty controversial among sectors of European and American societies. That is no other than Russia’s law against gay propaganda. I recently watched a documentary in which many people from all corners of Russian society publicly supported the law and advocated the need to protect children against inappropriate content and confusion. What are your thoughts on this measure? In the past Spanish society was probably more careful about the content children were exposed to. Now I think it is not far-fetched to say Spanish media exposes children to all kinds of violent and sexual content throughout the day. You have been to several Western countries; would you say our governments are becoming too permissive?

I do not think that media content in Western countries is much different to Russian media. Actually it is all the same TV shows, programmes and series that we watch. Though we do have this age restriction now in movie theatres, you know all those 12+ or 18+ markers that are shown before the movie begins.  I personally find them quite useless. I mean if a 15-year old wants to watch an 18+ movie, he’ll do it no matter what newly established censorship says. And I cannot say that governments are becoming too permissive about these things. It is just the amount of 18+ content today is so huge and availability of any information is so wide that no government will be able to control it. I think any restriction in a modern world is quite useless because today’s children are born with tablets in their hands. It is the parents’ duty to protect their children from all sorts of scenes they may find harmful that are shown on TV or available on YouTube.

As for gay propaganda and that documentary you watched, Russia historically is quite a traditional society and I have to agree that in general Russia’s tolerance level is quite limited nowadays. I think it has a lot to do with the Soviet times, when people went fanatical about morality and words like “gay” or “lesbian” were whispered in disgust. I frankly believe my mother did not even know such words before American movies were allowed on TV. But today things are changing, many people are starting to see it differently and maybe in some 200 years they will even allow gay unions in Russia.  I am sure that on that documentary you watched it was all 40+ 50+ people who were supportive of this law. Younger generations, at least in many cases, are not as traditional and if the director of that documentary had wanted to show Russians that support gay couples he or she would have easily found them in all corners as well. It is again, two sides of the same coin.

-Thank you very much Nadia for your insight. It has been a pleasure speaking with you again.

-The pleasure has been all mine.

 

By Alberto Aberasturi.

 

 

BBC gets off the fence with on-air Gaza appeal

THE WORLD RENOWNED pillar of impartiality, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), today took a radical step in their decision to broadcast an on-air appeal for donations to help the thousands affected by the conflict in Gaza.

An appeal on BBC Radio One – a station dedicated primarily to pop and chart music – went out this morning, interupting the regularly scheduled programming to discuss the severity of the crisis (which has left almost two thousand civilian fatalities in Palestine, 400 of which are children) and call for donations from Radio One listeners to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umberella organization consisting of 13 UK aid charities with the aim of dealing with international crises.

Read by popular Radio One DJ Scott Mills, the statement – according to the BBC website – was tailored specifically with the organizations requirement for impartiality in mind, rather than using a widely distributed message from DEC themselves. In what was a highly emotive segment, Mills outlined the severity and extent of the current crisis, which has forced half a million civilians in Gaza to flee their homes following heavy Israeli air strikes and rocket fire, and many of whom now live in unsafe, unhygienic and inhumane conditions as the offensive attacks continue.

The latter half of the appeal outlined the great help donations would bring in the form of aid to an area of conflict with already heinously overstretched medical and humanitarian resources. The broadcasts were also carried out on other stations and channels, including BBC Radio Four and television station BBC One.

22440162_01b6507e95_o

The broadcasts came after careful consideration from the corporation that it was inkeeping with their ‘charter obligation of due impartiality’. It was for these reasons that the BBC chose not to broadcast a similar appeal for Gaza in 2009, an inaction that sparked over 40,000 complaints. Speaking on the decision to appeal today, The BBC have outlined that:

“The disaster must be on such a scale and of such urgency as to call for swift international humanitarian assistance; the DEC agencies must be in a position to provide effective and swift humanitarian assistance at a scale to justify a national appeal; and, there has to be reasonable grounds for concluding that a public appeal would be successful”.

With this in mind, the decision of the organization was that this criteria in the case of Gaza has unequivocally been met, stating:

“The humanitarian need in Gaza has been widely acknowledged, including by the Israeli government, and the DEC has given assurances that aid can reach those who need it.”

This decision has been mirrored in other large broadcasting organizations, including Sky Television – who similarly declined to broadcast the DEC appeal in 2009. In light of the DEC’s campaign, the British Government have agreed to match public donations of up to two million pounds towards aid in Palestine.

The extent of the problems in Gaza are becoming increasingly apparent, and urgent, as evidenced with these formerly unheard of moves from large and impartial organizations such as the BBC – something which should not be taken lightly by their several million listeners across the UK and worldwide.

The disaster facing Palestinians is on a scale of such severity, and such urgency, that impartiality from media giants like the BBC can temporarily be put aside. The offensive attacks on Gaza and its civilians is relentless. The aid currently provided to help is not even close to enough.

If you would like to donate towards aid for the Gaza crisis through the DEC, and find out more on how your money can help, please click here.

Written by Rachel Barr
Photo Credit: United Nations Photo, slipstream JC

Facebook: Consumerism or community?

Kris Olin

Facebook recently announced a significant change to its advertising policy which means that soon they will be able to track users’ browsing habits outside of Facebook. This activity will be monitored through the use of the ‘like’ buttons now found almost universally on websites across the web.

Importantly, even if users do not click on a ‘like’ icon, that site will still record a visit if they are still logged into Facebook. The most obvious issue from this change regards the egregious infringements of privacy- as well as tracking and analysing activity within Facebook, users’ online history will be collated and processed by powerful computers scattered across the world.

This news was announced with a surprising indifference across the UK media. Perhaps the recent revelations of mass surveillance of the population by British and American government intelligence agencies de-sensitised people to the concept of their private lives being systematically spied on and analysed in distant, anonymous data centres.

The small level of public anger over this change has mainly been directed at privacy issues. These are important, but I think what is equally concerning is the desired end result: more extensive targeted-advertising. This may seem like a rather niche issue; targeted advertising from user tracking is already used by Facebook – mainly based on what users’ “likes” are – and other online giants such as Google and Twitter. But it is not a trivial matter; firstly its widespread use of course does not justify its prevalence. And more importantly, it illustrates how Facebook is providing a service which is increasingly an uncomfortable blend of public and corporate life.

Facebook makes most of its revenue by acting as a marketing platform for companies- they get to share this platform with over a billion users from around the world. For many of these people Facebook acts a significant extension of their social lives. It is indeed a great way to share photos and links, or plan gatherings and parties. But, there is a cost to using the service, which is the exposure to incessant adverts trying to sell you products or services that you have never needed.

Facebook has never been a public good but in many ways it is treated like one. The general complacency about the nature of the service has helped to normalise the notion that at all times our lives should be peppered with commercial messages.

Advertising is nothing new, but never before have corporations had this level of intimacy with consumers’ private lives. Television –the most important distributor of commercials  in recent decades –is of course saturated with consumerism but which mainly accompanies video entertainment. With social media, consumerism is now being mixed with our social lives in unprecedented ways. For example the Facebook ‘news feed’ contains advertisements that are integrated among the endless personal information uploaded by a multitude of friends. And now, the personal browsing history of Facebook users will be mercilessly exploited to provide tailored adverts- the online lives of those hundreds of millions who use it will be almost totally commercialised.

This is great news for online businesses but bad news for the integrity of our personal lives, as they become increasingly dominated by consumerism- a dangerous ideology that has helped cause the environmental emergency we’re in and desecrates cultures into mere shopping preferences.

Words by Andrew Knowles

Picture credit: Kris Olin

Are the Norwegians using Slaves?

slave by Benkos_Bioho

 

As the summer sun reveals the dust on the floor, social media in Norway is uncovering several incidents of exploiting employees. A felony so serious it has been depicted as being on the verge of slavery.

Workers defined as slaves
This spring, several businesses have revealed bad working conditions after routine control. On the Norwegian web page, Osloby.no, it is written that the police are worried about slavery in the Norwegian carwash industry. They claim to have met people paid 19 Norwegian kroner per hour. The employees are cheap labour for the superior. Also, the hotel, Oslo Plaza, has been threatened to close if they do not improve their work ethics. A 28-year old woman revealed to the Norwegian newspaper, Dagbladet, that she usually worked an average of 11.8 hours per day even though the normal work hours in Norway are 7.5 hours per day. The hotel has until August to find a solution to the problem.

Summer patrol
An improvement of today’s law on work ethics, can improve the work situation of today’s generation. During the weeks before summer break, young and hopeful seek work in order to earn money. This year is no different. The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Union (LO) is planning to conduct a so-called ‘’summer patrol’’. This patrol is supposed to visit different businesses and companies, and further report what conditions are like. LO prioritises these visits in addition to encourage unorganized employees to contact them about their rights.

‘’Take some air’’
Their first visit was at the Norwegian media house, NRK. Many young people working there were unsure about what will happen when their work period runs out. ‘’ To take some air’’, is a definition that temporary employees have had to deal with for a long time. It means that the supervisor makes the employer leave for a period of time in order to escape the rule of permanent employment starting after four years of temporary work. This spring, a temporary employee ran a lawsuit against NRK because the employee was asked ‘’to take some air’’. To the Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen, the representative of ‘’NRK super’’, said that the use of temporary employees is rapid because media houses usually work project based. However, this should not act on the expense of the employee’s rights.

Strengthened supervision
In 2011, while the previous government was still in charge, the supervision on conditions at various workplaces and among workers was strengthened and supported with 10 million Norwegian kroner. The previous Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, underlined how important it was with effective and visible supervision.

A reduce in law
Today, 3 years later, the current Prime Minister Erna Solberg, claims that the previous party in charge did not prioritise employment and work politics. Therefore, she believes it is up to her and the conservative parties in charge, to focus on employment and safe workspace. Although LO believes that the working environment act is functioning. Erna Solberg, on the other hand, believes that there needs to be a change of law. A law that reduces the rules, and might further result in more flexibility and freedom. Because of broad scepticism towards this, Solberg explained that a softening of the rules would not turn into dramatic changes in Norwegian work routines.

Bosses can easily take advantage of employees who are unaware of their rights, and several incidents show that this is the case in various businesses. The summer patrol, among other instances, can help build this awareness. Only the future can tell us if the reduction in the law can also improve the rights of workers in Norway.

By Hanna Skotheim

Picture: Benkos Biohos