Foreign workers are also entitled to a vacation, without fear of losing their jobs

This summer, many foreign workers will face an impossible dilemma. They can choose to go home for their summer holiday, but if they are quarantined upon their return, they risk being fired. This is a dilemma they should not have to deal with, says lawyer Josefine Wærstad from The professional drivers union (Yrkestrafikkforbundet).
edit FORFATTER: Lars Marius Matre

The summer holidays are just around the corner. For most people this year’s summer vacations are still burdened by the pandemic. Fortunately, spending the summer holiday in Norway is also a fantastic option. At least for Norwegians. It is, however, a less attractive option for foreign transportation workers who are in Norway without their families.

Yrkestrafikkforbundets experience throughout this pandemic has been that many of the major, serious employers are being extremely rigid when it comes to accommodating their foreign workers to allow them to travel home for the summer. With threats of dismissal not being uncommon.  

If the employees do not have enough vacation days within which to complete their quarantine, then they are expected to spend the holiday alone in Norway. As we all know, the quarantine rules are constantly changing - and it is not always easy to know whether you will be quarantined when returning home or not. In other words, foreign transportation workers risk being fired if they end up in an unforeseen quarantine when returning to Norway.

Yrkestrafikkforbundet therefore demands a clear and indisputable ban on dismissals resulting from employees’ vacations to their home countries. This will give the employees the freedom to spend their holidays with their families. This will also contribute to increased infection control, as workers will be able to prioritize maintaining their quarantine without risking their job security.

It is, in our opinion, insufficient for the authorities to leave the responsibility of managing foreign workers’ rights to their employers. The case was raised with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in April, where we asked that they introduce the right to leave in cases of mandatory quarantine. We propose this in order to make it clear that employers do not have the right to manage the employees' free time beyond what the authorities have decided. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs rejected our proposal in mid-May.

The legal uncertainty that we are now left with, is a major obstacle for foreign workers, and the Norwegian employers are reaping the benefits. Many employees simply do not want to risk being fired, and instead stay behind here in Norway, alone during their holidays.

We would, therefore, now like to ask the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to reconsider its rejection from May. This is not about politics, but about human dignity and the right to family life. The foreign workers must have the right to see their family, on the same terms as everyone else.