In Copenhagen, riders are campaigning for international students to have an equal right-to-work

With tuition fees reaching over €10,000 per year in one of the most expensive cities in Europe, riders who are non-EEA international students say they need to work more than the permitted 20 hours a week.

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Food delivery couriers in Copenhagen are demanding that non-EEA international students have the same right-to-work in Denmark as students from within the EU.

The riders are members of the Just Eat Workers’ Club in Copenhagen, which is part of 3F, Denmark’s largest union. They have set-up a petition to the Danish Parliament and are planning a protest on 16 December to make their voice heard.

Non-EEA international students are limited to working part-time (80 hours a month) in Denmark. There are no restrictions on the number of hours students from other parts of the EU can work in the country.

Copenhagen is one of the most expensive cities in Europe to live in and non-EEA international students cannot access bursaries or grants in Europe to fund them during their studies. The cost of tuition fees are also prohibitive.

Abdul (name changed for anonymity purposes) is from Bangladesh and has lived in Copenhagen since February. He got a job at Just Eat and has been involved with the union since the summer. 

“My tuition fee every year is 64,000 Danish Krone (DKK) (8584 Euros). Students doing engineering and science degrees are paying over 100,000 DKK,” he tells The Gig Economy Project. 

“With the high cost of rent, of transport, of food, of heating, it is a lot of money and that’s why the 80-hours a month limit is a problem for most students here. 

“It is difficult to earn enough money to pay everything and have a decent standard of living. I’m not talking about a lavish life, just a minimum standard of living.”

Asked if working full-time would not be damaging to the studies of international students, Abdul argues that the opposite is true.

“This will actually help us with our studies because we will be able to study with a fresh mind. When we are worrying about money it increases stress and makes it harder to concentrate,” he says.

“The deadline to pay the next tuition fee is in January, and many students I know are stressed about how to pay this, while at the same time they have deadlines for essays and so on.

“It’s about the right to choose ourselves how much we need to work, based on our individual situation. The EU students can work as much hours as they want, so if more hours is not creating a problem for their studies, why would it create problems for ours?”

Undeclared work

One argument against scrapping the 80-hour limit is that it prevents back-door entry into the Danish labour market under the auspices of studying, but the reality is that many non-EEA international students are currently breaching the 80-hour work limit through undeclared work. One of the main ways they do this is working through a rented account, where they pay another account holder for use of the account. 

This black market is not possible through Just Eat, as the riders are directly employed, but its two main competitors, Wolt and Foodora, still hire workers on an independent contractor basis, where they are paid-per-delivery, not per-hour. However, while non-EEA international students could previously register for Wolt without that work contributing to the 80-hour limit, changes to Wolt’s tax treatment in Denmark – whereby Wolt riders are now considered to be employees for tax purposes – mean that loophole has been closed. 

“When I came to Denmark I first applied for Wolt,” Abdul says. “They replied that they are not hiring international students because they have limited hours.”

These new restrictions on legally accessing Wolt accounts has been a boon for the black market trade. Accounts can easily be found on Facebook and WhatsApp groups, says Rasmus Emil Hjorth, shop steward for the Just Eat Workers’ Club, who was fired from Wolt last year for union organising

“One of the reasons why we are doing this campaign is that we don’t want people to fall into a legal blackhole, we want people to be protected with the same rights as any other employee in the Danish labour market,” Hjorth says. 

Abdul, who can work legally because he has an employment contract with Just Eat, says that no international student wants to rent an account, as they lose a significant amount of income by doing so, but many have “few options”.

“Either rent an account to work more hours, find another undeclared form of work, or leave this country,” he says.

“What happens is if they can’t do food delivery they look for other undeclared work, in a restaurant, or for a cleaning company, something like this. And that’s even worse for the government [than rented accounts in the food delivery sector], because they get no tax returns from that work.”

Government and union pushback

Hjorth believes that there is a “hypocrisy” in much of the opposition from government and others to giving non-EEA international students equal rights to work. He points to Kaare Dybvad, Denmark’s Immigration Minister, as a case in point. 

“He has written a book about the Protestant work ethic, because he believes that Danes are not working enough and we need to work more if we want to protect our living standards,” he says. “At the same time, he is the one who is restricting our colleagues’ right-to-work in Denmark.”

Hjorth’s Just Eat Workers’ Club has 60 riders as members, around 10% of Just Eat’s workforce in Copenhagen. He says the majority of the members are migrants, and many of those are international students who raised this issue with him directly. The campaign came about after a meeting between Hjorth, Abdul and a Nepalese rider.

He admits that their campaign has also had pushback from certain sections of the 3F union, where there is concern about adding more migrants to the Danish labour market. 

“In my view it is totally wrong to put more worth on native Danes than on other people who are living here,” Hjorth argues. “But our campaign is not about the issue of migration in general, it is specifically about equal right-to-work for international students.”

“At the end of the day, this is a dumb rule. Restricting international students’ right-to-work whilst demanding that they pay every expense to live and study in Copenhagen: it does not add up.”

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