Row over Danish plan to cut immigrants' pay

Tony Paterson
Monday 19 July 2010 00:00 BST

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A bitter political row has erupted in Denmark over proposals by a member of the ruling party to slash the minimum wage for immigrant workers by half to help them gain a foothold in the jobs market.

The controversial plan has been put forward by Karsten Lauritzen, the immigration spokesman for Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen's Venstre liberal party, which rules in a coalition with the conservatives.

"Denmark's high minimum wage acts as a barrier which prevents immigrants from getting jobs. If we want to get them out of the ghettos we will have to pay them less," Mr Lauritzen told the Berlingske Tidene newspaper,

Denmark's immigrant population is estimated to number 450,000 – or around 12 per cent of the population.

Mr Lauritzen has proposed paying immigrant workers around 50 Danish Krone (€6.50) an hour for the first six months, compared to the country's average minimum wage of 100 Krone per hour, arguing that a two-tier wage system would help them into jobs that might then lead to regular employment.

The proposal has been vehemently opposed by Denmark's leftwing parties, but is also causing a ruckus within his own party.

Immigration Minister Birthe Hornbech, a fellow Venstre member, has clashed publicly with Mr Lauritzen, even though he is her department's spokesman. "The idea is disagreeable because it stigmatises immigrants," she said.

The far-right Danish People's Party, who have run on an anti-immgration platform, has said the proposal amounts to "discrimination" because it could take jobs away from ordinary Danes.

However, Mr Lauritzen's plan has won sympathy from the Labour Minister, Inger Stojberg, and from Naser Khader, the immigration spokesman from Venstre's conservative party coalition partners.

Mr Khader, who is himself from an immigrant background, is in favour of the idea. Yet he argues that low pay rates could only apply to immigrants arriving in the country without any knowledge of Danish and whose training qualifications were not recognised. He cites the case of well-educated immigrants from countries such as Iraq, who he insists would readily work for lower pay if it meant having a steady job.

The furore over the Danish proposition echoes the row that erupted in Germany last month after an member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Party proposed that immigrants should be subjected to intelligence tests before being allowed in.

The idea was subsequently rejected as discriminatory, but the fear of uncontrolled immigration remains high in Germany. Last week, Ole Schröder, Germany's Deputy Interior Minister, flatly rejected EU plans to streamline asylum policy.

The EU has called on Germany to abolish its practice of deporting asylum seekers caught with illegal identification within 24 hours. It has also demanded that Germany provide would-be asylum seekers with welfare while their applications are processed. However, Mr Schröder said the proposals threatened to turn Germany into a "magnet" for asylum seekers.

Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, Geert Wilders the controversial anti-Muslim MP, has unveiled plans to form an international western alliance committed to banning immigration from Islamic countries.

Declaring that he would launch his campaign later this year in Britain, the US, Canada, France and Germany, Mr Wilders told the Dutch parliament "The message 'Stop Islam, defend freedom' is not only important for the Netherlands but for the whole free Western world."

Mr Wilders has seen his support soar in recent months. His Freedom Party almost tripled its share of the vote in last month's general election to come third, although the Dutch mainstream parties subsequently refused to form a coalition with him.

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