SOME SVALBARD WORKERS LEFT IN THE COLD FOR CORONAVIRUS UNEMPLOYMENT AID: Non-Norwegian citizens working for non-Norwegian companies ineligible, NAV says

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Some Svalbard residents will be ineligible for or receive reduced assistance from Norway being provided to those laid off or similarly affected by the coronavirus crisis, according to the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration. In particular, non-Norwegian citizens working for non-Norwegian employers will be ineligible. And those who are must have a valid Norwegian residency permit.

Those working seasonal contracts and as freelancers – a significant portion of Svalbard’s tourism and service industry – also will see limitations. Local and regional officials have stated the series of economic aid measures announced by Norway in recent days are still being evaluated in terms of their practical impact and individuals seeking aid will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

As for all people and companies facing layoffs, the most immediate things to know are 1) employers may now give two days’ notice instead of 14 (and may not have to pay the full 15 days’ of required severance pay, although the government will cover the remainder) and 2) laid-off workers will be eligible quicker for assistance payments.

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Benjamin Vidmar, a U.S. resident working at Longyearbyen School who also operates tourism and permaculture businesses, will be eligible for coronavirus-related aid if laid off from his government job, but may not get help for his own businesses that are now largely dormant. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

An example of how benefit eligibility will apply to Longyearbyen residents is Benjamin Vidmar, a U.S. citizen who has a 60-percent-time job at Longyearbyen School, and owns a tourism company and permaculture business. He will qualify for aid if laid off from his job at the school, but not for his own businesses that have almost entirely come to a halt since quarantine and travel restrictions were enacted.

“I don’t think I’m going to get anything for that,” he said.

Vidmar said he has been contacted by Visit Svalbard to complete a member survey as the agency compiles data about the tourism employment situation and potential impacts due to the virus, an effort also being made broadly by Longyearbyen’s municipal government and other agencies.

Those in Svalbard seeking assistance will be considered by the NAV office in Tromsø.

An example of how the nationwide measures once officially enacted will apply to an individual is detailed at the Norwegian government’s website.

“An employer announces layoffs on March 10,” the example states. “The layoff is implemented on March 12. The employer pays severance pay until new rules come into force. If new rules come into force on Thursday, March 19, the company will have paid severance pay from March 12 through March 18. Then the layoffs switch to unemployment benefit. The remaining days of compulsory pay in accordance with old rules lapse.”

Because Svalbard has a number of different labor regulations compared to the mainland due to its differing residency and tax laws, the labor administration stated in a press release that some in the archipelago will be ineligible for the benefits.

“In practice, this means that no one who has expiring (seasonal) contracts, or emergency contracts no longer in effect, is entitled to unemployment benefits during Svalbard residency,” the statement notes. “It means that only those who are laid off from a permanent employment contract or laid off from a current contract can receive unemployment benefits, if other conditions are fulfilled.”

Also, non-Norwegians working for Norwegian companies who are eligible for aid will lose their national insurance rights one month after being laid-off, the agency states.

The government’s full list of measures, according to its English-language website (provided verbatim without editing):

  • Measures in the health care system to handle the acute crisis. This include securing necessary equipment and personnel.
  • Reduce the number of days that employers are obliged to pay salary to workers at temporary lay-offs, from 15 to 2 days. This will be a temporary measure to improve companies’ liquidity and help avoid massive lay-offs.
  • Remove the three waiting days between the period when employers have to provide salary to workers in temporary layoffs and the period when the workers are entitled to daily unemployment benefits. This will reduce the loss of income for workers.
  • Change corporate tax regulations so that companies that are lossmaking can re-allocate their loss towards previous years’ taxed surplus.
  • Change the tax regulations so that owners of lossmaking companies can postpone payments of wealth tax. This will reduce the need for firms to provide dividends to owners to cover the wealth tax.
  • Suspend the tax on air passengers for flights in the period from 1 January 2020 until 31 October 2020.
  • Suspend payments of aviation charges until 31 June 2020.
  • Strengthen support for skills upgrade and in-house training for companies affected by the virus outbreak, through increased grants to the counties.
  • Increase allocation to municipalities that will have large excess expenses due to the virus outbreak.
  • Make sure that pension rights are not affected negatively for retired health personnel that returns to service in connection with the corona outbreak.