Unions knew about illegal workers - not taken seriously

The unions repeatedly voiced concerns over foreign workers' work conditions – Northvolt responded with doubt: "They laughed and said only you have seen these Indian workers," reported union representatives during the police investigation. Today marks the commencement of the trial for immigration law violations against a Northvolt executive.

On November 25, 2021, several authorities conducted a joint raid at Northvolt, resulting in a number of suspected violations of the Immigration Act. Today, the trial against an executive at Northvolt is being held.

On November 25, 2021, several authorities conducted a joint raid at Northvolt, resulting in a number of suspected violations of the Immigration Act. Today, the trial against an executive at Northvolt is being held.

Foto: Jonny Vikström

Skellefteå2023-08-29 11:54

It's August 2021, and in the woods above Bergsbyn in Skellefteå, a huge battery factory is being built. Two union safety representatives are conducting a safety inspection, which they usually do three or four times a week.

During the safety inspection they discuss the working environment with some workers from Northvolt, who then say, "If you think we have it bad, go and see the Indian workers."

The union representatives were already aware that people were on the premises without ID cards, did not clock in and out, and refused to disclose the companies they worked for.

However, at that time in August, the Indian workers were unknown to them.

In the police investigation, representatives from the unions state that they have seen workers entering the premises without clocking in and refusing to disclose the companies they work for.

When Mathias Hansson, the union ombudsman for the Electricians' Union, finally meets the Indian workers, he confirms that the Indian workers are employed by a previously unknown company.

These workers report earnings of around 10 euros per hour without overtime pay, and regardless of the hours they work.

After having reported what he saw to the police, Hansson expressed discomfort, saying: "I felt sick to my stomach and this didn't seem right.

Hansson and Pettersson, ombudsman for the Building Workers' Union, describe in interviews how they raised the issue with Northvolt.

Pierre explains, "We've also had Northvolt's security personnel meet with these workers."

In spite of these efforts, a safety inspection in September in which Northvolt's security team and the Indian workers took part did not result in any significant changes.

Pierre notes, "The issue should have been escalated.

Pierre Pettersson, a union representative and safety delegate for Byggnads, emphasized that the issue of illegal labor was brought to the attention of Northvolt's responsible parties early in the autumn of 2021.

During a meeting in September, the union representatives raised the issue of the Indian workers with Northvolt contacts - but were met with what they describe as nonchalance.

The trade union representatives from Byggnads, the Electricians' Union and IF Metall, who testified to the police after the raid on November 25, all say that Northvolt treated the issue of the Indian workers in an insulting manner during the meeting.

"Northvolt had no confidence in us. Then I heard through hearsay that Northvolt didn't believe these Indian workers existed. That Pierre had made them up," Mathias says during the interrogation.

"I remember that very well. I found it unpleasant. They laughed and said that 'only you have seen these Indians, Pierre'," says Jenny Nilsson, a representative of IF Metall.

According to Jenny Nilsson of IF Metal, during the autumn of 2021, the unions had requested that Northvolt provide information about the companies present on the site. However, Northvolt couldn't provide an answer as they claimed "they didn't know."

In October, safety officer Hansson met the Indian workers again.

"We then had a safety round with Northvolt's safety team. Then we met the Indian workers again. There was also a rumor that the workers were sneaking their way in, and I saw it. I asked these Indians to show me their ID06 cards, and they showed me Hungarian ID cards, which were not relevant."

According to Pettersson, the situation with the Indian workers became apparent early on.

"Just after the holidays, in the middle of August. We raised the issue directly with Northvolt," Pierre told the police, and then listed the names of several Northvolt representatives who received the information - including the now-indicted manager.

Mathias Hansson says under questioning that he suspects that not only workers from India were illegally on the site, but that it was the Indian workers who worried him.

On November 25, 2021, several authorities conducted a joint raid at Northvolt, resulting in a number of suspected violations of the Immigration Act. Today, the trial against an executive at Northvolt is being held.

At the end of the interview with Jenny Nilsson from IF Metall, she adds that the unions have been clear with Northvolt that something has to be done and that the company bears the responsibility.

"So it's not as if they didn't know," she says.

The manager identified as the suspect maintains his innocence.

In March 2022, the police question the suspected manager. He explains that Northvolt expects subcontractors to comply with the rules and laws, and that if any mistakes are found, Northvolt turns to the main supplier. Third and fourth level employees are reported to the person who hired them, and then upwards. "Northvolt doesn't look at the fourth level," says the manager.

The Indians were recruited by a company in Slovakia, which was recruited by another Slovak company. That Slovakian company was recruited by an Italian company, which was recruited by Northvolt's main contractor.

The chain from Northvolt and the main supplier to the subcontractors in Italy and Slovakia.

As per the executive, it's the procurement division at Northvolt that holds accountability for the firms procured for the factory's construction. However, the procurement team lacks the authority to verify if the personnel designated by subcontractors are genuinely permitted to be on the premises.

"Is it the duty of Northvolt to prevent unauthorized access to the site?" inquires the police.

"Yes, indeed. It's our construction site," responds the executive.

Several times during the police interrogation, the manager says that Northvolt should review its procedures, including for when staff on the site turn out not to have a work permit.

When queried by the police about awareness of unlawful labor at Northvolt during the raid, the executive staunchly denies any knowledge.

The executive's lawyer, Bengt Ivarsson, later clarified the situation.

He writes that the executive continues to deny the allegations because "the foreign workers mentioned were not employed by Northvolt. The executive also denies having any knowledge that people without work permits were working on the premises, and claims to have learned only a few days before the police raid that there were allegations of "offering the lending of workers between different subcontractors".

Bengt Ivarsson is the attorney for the executive.

The time interval between the executive becoming aware and the police intervention was so brief that the executive neither had intent nor acted negligently. Therefore, the investigation against the executive should be closed, as stated by him.

Bakgrunden till åtalet mot Northvolt
Bakgrunden till åtalet mot Northvolt
The indictment

The executive was responsible for personnel and employment matters at Northvolt during the relevant period. According to the prosecutor, the executive is alleged to have had 12 employees who did not have the right to stay in Sweden and/or did not have a work permit between August 22, 2021 and November 25, 2021.

The prosecutor argues that the executive committed the crime intentionally.

The executive denies the charges.

The prosecutor also demands that Northvolt pay a special fine of SEK 618,800.