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JUHANI ARTTO
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Finnish employers exploit Vietnamese workers and Estonian electricians

Helsinki (03.05.2010 - Juhani Artto) A year ago police were called to intervene in the beating of a Vietnamese worker in the sleepy small town Uusikaarlepyy at Ostrobothnia. It was the beginning of a process that has exposed what has been described as "exceptionally brutal exploitation" in Intiim magazine’s editorial.

The exploiter in this instance has been a subcontractor for a plastic company, and it was the subcontractor' sons who assaulted the Vietnamese worker.

According to the latest issue of Intiim, the magazine of the trade union TEAM, police soon found out that the subcontractor was in several other respects a rotten employer. In practise, male employees earned no more than EUR800 monthly and female employees only EUR500. Worse still, the working week of these about twenty Vietnamese employees was double that of what is considered the regular working week. And no annual leave was granted to the employees.

Jukka Heikkerö, a lawyer with TEAM, is convinced that in this case criminal code elements relating to human trafficking are applicable. Police are now gathering material evidence concerning the case with a view to pursuing eventual prosecution.

In recent years more and more news on bad treatment of immigrant labour has been published. Vasama, the magazine of the Electrical Workers' Union, reported in its latest issue on abuse of Estonian electricians who have been working  in Tampere for only EUR10 per hour which is far below the minimum agreed upon in the national collective agreement for electricians' work.

For Finnish employees this kind of exploitation not only serves as a reminder of how inhuman labour market practise can exist in the Finland of today. But it also strikes home how such malevolent employer policy must be understood as indicative of the serious and ever increasing risks facing both Finnish employees and employers. If this kind of grevious exploitation is not stamped out now it will mean growing problems for honest companies and their personnel who are in competition with companies that have totally sub-standard pay-scales and that fully neglect taxes and social security costs.

What is also alarming is that authorities and legislators have not done much in recent years to prevent this dangerous tendency. The trade union movement has continuously demanded more resources and rights for the labour inspectorates but these demands have mainly been ignored. There is also a clear need to put more responsibility on the shoulders of companies concerning their subcontractors' honesty.

It may sound strange but public sector organisations seem not to be any better than private companies when it comes to checking their subcontractors' behaviour. The City of Tampere could have intervened and prevented the exploitation of Estonian electricians as the City will hire space, for its social services centre, from the building under construction. But the City has remained passive, and in Vasama its representative only "regrets" the exposed case, i.e. the social dumping.