Many work for just a few euros per hour - or even less
Helsinki (18.01.2010 - Juhani Artto) On Saturday, Helsingin
Sanomat, the largest daily in Finland, reported on wages that barely exceed EUR3 per hour.
According to the story, immigrant labour inspector Anssi Riihijärvi has uncovered such
miserable wages in a few ethnic restaurants. The minimum wage as defined in the
catering sector collective agreement that is of a generally binding character- should be
more than 9EUR per hour. A similar, and even wider discrepancy prevails in the mail
distribution industry. The Finnish Post and Logistics Union PAU has recently voiced strong
criticism of companies for paying -in the worst instances- as little as EUR2 per hour. The
minimum is four times higher than that, under the industry's collective agreement. In June
2009 the Labour Court confirmed that the agreement is of a generally binding character and
should be applied in all mail distribution jobs.
The companies, criticised by PAU, are involved in the distribution of printed
advertisements and free-of-charge tabloids. Delivery people are employed on a piece rate
basis, and do not have any guaranteed minimum hourly rate. These companies often hire
immigrants, students and children(!) to do the work.
Authorities compel unemployed to work for EUR8 per day
Unfortunately, these two examples do not represent the most extreme cases of wage dumping.
Much work is done, in practical terms, without any compensation. Surprisingly, one example
of this is a consequence of measures taken by the employment or labour exchange
authorities. Since 2006 Finland has had legislation that allows employment authorities to
force long-time unemployed to work without due wage or salary.
Ahjo, the magazine of the Metalworkers' Union, describes in its latest issue how the
system functions by telling the story of Kaija Kauppi (55). In the past she has worked as
a vendor, ticket-collector, consultant and factory worker. In April 2006 she was given
notice and had been receiving up until December 2008 the earnings-related unemployment
benefit or dole (which is for a maximum of 500 days), and after that the clearly smaller
labour market benefit.
However, she was soon being warned that she could be denied the labour market subsidy
unless she took the job offered to her by the authorities. So she accepted the offer and
began to work in a municipal centre. She worked from Monday to Friday 6.5 hours per day
having the same kind of tasks as the permanently employed personnel. But: she did not
receive any wage, only a EUR8 per day allowance to cover her meals in the centre and her
By May 2009 she had become so fed up with the no-compensation job that she quit. Since
then she has rejected an offer to work as a cleaner for the same miserable EUR8 per day.
Kauppi is well aware that the authorities may now interrupt, for three months, the payment
of the EUR410 per month labour market benefit.
Not for experienced people
The magazine reminds its readers that this unjust system may be applied to a huge number
of unemployed Finns. "The Finnish State has begun to use a system of forced labour",
Saana Siekkinen, the head of SAK's unit of training and labour force issues, says that the
system should not be applied to people who have clocked up considerable working experience
during their working career. They should not be forced to do any work whatsoever as a
condition for drawing the labour market benefit, Siekkinen insists.
Trade unions should work more actively to end this non-compensated forced labour, one of
the victims Kaija Kauppi urges.