Text: Cristina Lazar
Many of us have had, have or will have a student job here in Denmark, as the costs of living are not exactly the cheapest and we all want to make our way through the study years fun and financially comfortable at the same time. Therefore, during the education programme here, some of us might have a student job in Aalborg, one which maybe isn’t exactly our dream job, it’s just a way to get some money to survive or some pocket money, depending on each situation.
As foreign students, the first barrier risen is obviously the language, Danish being a way of communication which requires maybe years of intensive practice, in order to master it at the level you would need in your professional field. This being said, let us talk a bit about what kind of student jobs Aalborg provides for foreign students and explore how the job system is supposed to work in all cases, but in reality it only does in some.
One important factor, vital to mention for the following argument, is SU, which is the way the Danish state and government is helping the people who are dedicated enough to enroll in a higher education. SU practically consists of a monthly income, provided by the state to each Danish citizen student, just on the purpose of being a student. Moreover, the Danish system offers this kind of financial help to foreign students as well, if some conditions are met simultaneously- student, part-time job, minimum 40 hours of work per month, from which 10-12 hours have to be registered during each week. Moreover, the Danish tax system, called SKAT, is in direct relation with the institution responsible for providing the money and therefore taxing your incomes- the SU and your salary. Sounds simple, right?! And it is, as long as all the conditions are met and your employer is honest and accepts to respect all the regulations imposed by law.
Unfortunately, what happens in many cases is that the employers overwork foreign employees, as they are aware that the students are dependent on having the job, in order to not only to get the salary, but also to have access to SU. Sadly, but true, they take advantage of that particular circumstance. More than that, the foreign employees are afraid in most cases to report the employers, as they would lose their job and consequently their income and way of living in Denmark, so they accept to continue to work under these conditions. In most cases, they are not aware that there are unions specialized in helping the employee, as long as you are a member at the time of the ‘scamming’. On top of that, a new trend among dishonest employers in Aalborg is to exploit the students and make them work extra hours, which are not paid according to the minimum hourly wage, instituted by law, or even paid at all. This leads to an unfair situation, where the student employer is working for free a lot of times, due to the fact that the employer does not declare the whole amount of hours to SKAT, in order not to get taxed more. Doesn’t sound so simple now, right?!
One of the worst situations you can be in, as a consequence of your employer not declaring all the hours you’ve honestly worked is that in March, April the next year, when the professional year is over and all the recalculations of taxes and refunds are being completed, you will get in a situation where you might have to give some SU back. And I am talking of that, not only because I have gone through something like that, but because tens and hundreds of foreign students are facing that every year and they end up finishing their studies exhausted from studying and working at the same time, plus with a huge debt to the state. And everything is confusing and chaotic because as it is my case, you are not working in that place anymore, or maybe the business/company doesn’t even exist anymore, and you end up like John Travolta in his famous confused scene from ‘Pulp Fiction’.
In order to bring some light to some real cases, I will firstly expose my personal experience with student jobs in Aalborg. In 2016 I was employed for five months at a greengroceries’ store located in the city. I was working extra hours, hard physical labor sometimes, which ended up not being paid or even declared to SKAT, and I even had one month when I was shortly noticed before my employer went for holiday for two weeks. Since I was working extra, I had the correct number of hours in that specific month, but as a surprise, my employer did not declare my hours. Therefore, in the next March, this year, I was informed that I have to pay back five months of SU, as I have not worked continuously, which I have in reality. My ex-employer refuses to collaborate with me, and the institution which I am supposed to pay back, is encouraging me to talk to my ex-employer. Kind of a trapped situation, agree?!
Moreover, the union which is in charge to defend the employer’s rights as an EU citizen is demanding that I should have been a member at the time of the ‘scamming’, meaning that I would have had to probably predict that I would be in this situation in the future and also find out that I am supposed to be part of an union. Because I am a fortuneteller after all!
But enough about me, now we will talk about another similar case, regarding a foreign student here in Aalborg.
“So, I worked at a pizza place from January 2016 to January 2017. As from mentioned, to get SU you need to work at least 40 hours per month, but once I was replacing a colleague, I had to work alone most of the time, meaning that I had to work more than 100 hours per month. Moreover, I was getting 35 kr./hour, after working 40 hours for the SU.
After that, in January 2017, I requested to have my SU stopped, as I was starting my internship soon outside of Denmark. I immediately got a reply demanding a proof that I have been working at least 40 hours per month starting with June 2016 to January 2017. Since I was not in Denmark anymore, I asked for my payslips repeatedly from my ex-boss, but the requests were most of the times ignored and once in a while he replied me saying that he had to talk with the accountant. Until today the situation has not been resolved, once I can’t get my payslips and consequently prove to SU that I worked the minimum hours in order to be entitled to receive the money.
Before all this, I was not aware that we have to become a member of a union in order to be protected against scam as an employee. I thought that the system would protect the employee, but it’s the opposite, they will ask you the money back, instead of inquiring your employer if you worked the minimum hours per month.
The only possible solution is to talk with a lawyer to help me out, once I can’t get any help from SU, SKAT and a union in charge to help the employee.”
Therefore, this article has the purpose to bring some light upon the foreign or Danish students, which are struggling to make a living here and feel they are not protected. Hope it helps. Cheers!