Same rules for Finns must apply to immigrant labour
Juhani Artto) In Finland the question of work-related
immigration is a fairly recent experience when compared with most other
countries. And, this is primarily due to the fact that Finland was
a country -up until just a few decades ago- where labour emigration clearly
In the early 1970s and again in the late 1980s employers cautiously broached
the question of the need
to import foreign labour but in both instances the debate flitted out
quickly as the timing for addressing this very issue, ironically enough,
happened to coincide with periods of
recession and high unemployment.
It is fair to say the real starting shot in the discussion and debate on
work-related immigration began with the immigration policy programme,
October 2006, by Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen's
government. Labour market organizations participated in its preparation.
The main purpose of the programme is to analyse matters that concern
work-related immigration from the outside of the European Union. As to the
citizens of the EU Member States, an essentially new situation was created
with Finland joining the Union in 1995 and by the EU expansion
in the 2000s, with the accession of 12 new member states. Now the principle
of free movement of labour is the same for
Finland as it is for all other EU Member States. Citizens of each member
state are free to work or seek work in other member states.
Ageing population increases the need for immigrant labour
One of the starting points for the government's
immigration policy programme centred around
projected estimates which concluded that without the impact of immigration
the working age
population is set to shrink at an alarmingly rate. According to the latest
working age population is likely to decrease by 200,000 by the year 2020.
The purpose of
attracting immigrant labour to Finland is to complement, not replace,
the Finnish labour force, the programme outlines.
This time round the recession that began in autumn 2008 has not served to
sideline debate on work-related immigration. Indeed
attitudes and policies towards immigration and immigrants have become one of
the most important issues leading up to the April 2011 parliamentary
The role of the labour market organizations vis a vis labour-related
immigration can be divided into two strands. The employers have emphasized
for work-related immigration, mindful of the ageing population.
For the same reason, the trade unions have admitted the existence of this
but the trade unions'
interest has always focused on the rules concerning the use of foreign
labour and on how these rules are respected.
Foreign workers must be bound by the same rules Finnish workers
have, the trade union movement insists. It means respect for Finnish
legislation and for the circa 400 collective agreements, signed by the
The unions are highly critical of the way in which immigrant labour has been
employed in recent years and are alarmed at abuses in certain sectors.
At a time when tens of thousands of Finns are
suffering unemployment work has gone -often under illegal
arrangements- to foreign employees. Shady companies are paying these foreign
workers wages and
salaries that fall dramatically short of the minimum levels set in
collective agreements. Also the working weeks these people endure may
clearly exceed the upper
limits set in collective agreements and the legislation. In addition, such
companies have often evaded taxes and neglected pension and social security
Problems concentrated in the private sector
The problem is acutely felt in the construction industry. Many abuses
have also been highlighted in the catering industry. The trade unions
Trade Union and Service Union United PAM- are
actively struggling against social dumping of immigrant labour.
The public sector has employed a limited number of foreigners, and so far
there have no cases of social dumping. But the risk of shady entrepreneurs
penetrating public services is increasing as pressure to subcontract them
has constantly grown, warns Jarkko Eloranta, the Vice President of
The Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors.
Breaking the law and rule infringement in the construction and some other
industries has been
facilitated by the scarce resources available to the authorities whose job
it is to ensure labour laws are being adhered to and respected. Over the
past years trade union
organizations have been persistent in their demand for more
inspectors be engaged so as to make the risk of getting caught a significant
deterrent factor. Right now the risk of detection is very low.
The situation would dramatically improve if trade union organizations were,
as the unions propose, allowed to take group lawsuits and if contractors
would be effectively obliged to make
their subcontractors obey the Finnish legislation and collective agreements.
However, work done by the union movement has not led to the expected or
desired results. Ralf Sund, the economic policy expert of the union confederation STTK, is
cautiously optimistic that the employer side will become more active in
demanding, together with the unions, more effective control. "Law
companies would benefit from more effective control as the abuse of
immigrant labour weakens their own position in respect of competition",
He, in line with other union movement representatives, warns that leaving
space for social dumping may lead to the birth of a two-tier labour market.
social dumping can be regarded as a marginal phenomenon, when related to the
total number of working people, 2.5 million, Sund concludes.
Demand of health and social care services increases
In the health and social care service branches the number of foreign
employees has grown but still remains low. The amount of old people who need
these services is however rapidly increasing for now and into the
future. The number of people who are 65 years of age is set to rise from the
per cent to at least 26 per cent by 2040, experts predict.
The availability of labour in these service sectors is especially
critical because of the age structure of the present labour force. In 2020 up to
of these sectors'
present employees will no longer be available for these sectors' employers.
Many experts believe that the growing needs of services cannot be satisfied
without a sizable injection of foreign employees. Tehy, The Union of
Health and Social Care Professionals, has in this connection, often
highlighted the fact that thousands of Finnish health care professionals
work abroad, for example in
Norway and United Kingdom, where they are paid clearly better salaries than
those paid for similar tasks in Finland.
Immigrants have a growing role in the labour market
The number of people who have permanently moved to Finland has increased
rapidly from the early 1990s. In 1990, there were 30,000
foreign residents in Finland. Now there are about 150,000. The figures do
not include immigrants who
have obtained Finnish citizenship during this period. If this group were to
be also included then number of immigrants and people with an
immigrant background living permanently in Finland rises to over 200,000.
This very heterogeneous group has a real significance on the labour supply
in several sectors. In the greater capital region they make up a substantial
proportion of the bus drivers and cleaners. However, the type of employment
where immigrants are to be found conceals a fact which is often overlooked.
Regardless education and work experience it is much more difficult
for immigrants than for Finns to find a job. As a consequence many
immigrants work in so called entry jobs that do not correspond to their
Trade unions remind of unemployment
At present, the unemployment rate in Finland is about 8 per cent. Not even
the most favourable scenarios promise any rapid reduction in the
rate. In the discussion on work-related immigration trade union
organizations demand that the government increase its efforts to improve
employment opportunities for Finns, emphasizing the principle that immigrant
not replace Finnish labour force but complement it. (Read more on
Employment Bulletin, published by the Ministry of Employment
and the Economy)
More figures related to the issue:
- Over 5.3 million people
live permanently in Finland.
- The number of employed people with an immigrant background has doubled or
tripled in the 2000s. In 2007 the employment rate for this group was from 53
to 58 per
cent (70 per cent of the entire population). Participation in
working life varies widely between the various national groups of
- The unemployment rate of those with an immigrant background, has
decreased clearly but it still is more than double the 8 per cent
unemployment rate of the whole labour force.
- Among the people with an immigrant background 75 per cent are of working
age (from 18 to 64 years of age). In the entire population 60 per cent
belong to the same age group.
- Some 35,000 -
45,000 foreigners work temporarily in Finland. Most of them
are EU Member State citizens.
- In 2006 Finnish companies employed in Finland directly 24,000 foreigners
who did not live permanently in Finland.
- In 2007 almost 11,000 people, posted by employers in other EU Member
States, worked in Finland for a limited period of time. Of these the largest
numbers were Estonians (6,500 persons) and Poles
- With certain exceptions (for example berry pickers and teachers), people
coming from countries not belonging to the EU need a stay permit to work in
Finland. In 2009 about 10,000 such stay permits were applied for. Over 20
cent of the applications were rejected. Russia tops the list with its 3,229
applications. It was followed by Ukraine (1,378), China (856), Turkey (729),
Croatia (594), the Philippines (425) and Thailand (318).
- The largest vocational groups among the applicants were cleaners (1,197),
cooks (1,090), garden workers (753), drivers (669), plumbers (518),
agricultural labourers (505), welders (490), managers (339), platers (270),
kitchen and restaurant workers (231) and construction workers (211).
- Illegal immigration to Finland is a very small phenomenon.
The main source of the above figures is this Finnish language article:
Ulkomaalaisten tilapäisen työnteon tilastointi on
hajanaista ja puutteellista, 30.09.2009
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