While the Radisson Polar Blu Hotel is trying to promote its fancy new upgrades to the outside world, officials closer to home are far more concerned about numerous labor violations involving those doing the work as 150,000 kroner in fines is being levied against the hotel’s owner and one of the subcontractors doing the renovations.
Those responsible for the renovations took illegal shortcuts, failed to give its workers mandatory health environment and safety cards, violated wage and hour requirements, and failed to properly coordinate duties among the companies involved, according to an audit by the Norwegian Labor Inspection Authority, Norwegian Tax Administration and The Governor of Svalbard.
The governor issued a statement about the violations at the end of January and Svalbardposten first reported in-depth details from the report this week.
Hurtigruten Svalbard, which owns the hotel and had nearly 300 million kroner in operating revenues last year, hired seven different companies employing a total of 27 people for various aspects of the remodeling. Hurtigruten was legally required to maintain an overview list on site of the companies’ various duties, but failed to do so, according to the audit.
“When neither the builder nor the coordinator had heard of five of the eight businesses on the construction project, we cannot see that the work could have been coordinated in accordance with building regulations,” the report states.
Among other things, a request for the list ended up including “handwritten timesheets that were prepared for internal use by (subcontractor) Royalton Holdings,” the audit notes.
Inspectors were told employees worked 10.5 hours a day, not including meal breaks, from Monday to Saturday. But some employees interviewed by the agency said they worked differing hours and days than those.
“At least some of these conditions represent violations of working time provisions in the Working Environment Act concerning ordinary working hours, overtime and weekly leisure time,” the audit states. “Each individual employer is responsible for ensuring that the provisions of the Working Environment Act concerning working hours are observed.”
The labor authority imposed a fine of 100,000 kroner for Hurtigruten Svalbard and 50,000 kroner for the Azerbaijani company Royalton Holdings, which had 19 employees working on the project.
Hurtigruten Communications Director Rune Thomas Ege told Svalbardposten the company is paying the fine and accepting responsibility for its subcontractors’ actions because “we’ve failed, and that’s not good enough. Now we get to take the punishment we deserve.”
“If something is not in order we are happy for it will be uncovered and we will clean up after ourselves,” he said. “We have tightened our routines, and that will ensure far better follow-up of contractors and suppliers. After all, we are the builder who will clean up if something goes wrong.”
Concerns about local working conditions, wages and labor violations have been expressed repeatedly in recent years due to changes sought in labor laws by Norway’s Conservative-led government, a rapid increase in foreign residents and foreign companies employing them (thus potentially exempting them from Norway’s labor laws), and the large-scale shift from unionized jobs such as mining to non-union and freelance contracts offered by tourism companies.
The details were published a week before the Svalbard Guide Association, which formed last spring due to widespread complaints and allegations about violations of labor laws, holds its second large-scale meeting with union representatives from the mainland to discuss potential membership and other remedial actions.