In February, police reported on a major extortion case of Vietnamese agricultural workers in Närpiö, a small town in the Ostrobothnia region on the west coast of Finland.
Three Vietnamese entrepreneurs are under investigation for illegally demanding their compatriots to pay some 10,000 euro each, or even more, to get them work in the greenhouses in Närpiö.
The case aroused widespread discussion. Närpiö is known as a decent and orderly town with good experiences of immigration and a low unemployment rate. Now, Finns began to realise that foreign worker exploitation can really happen anywhere.
As the number of foreigners has until recent years been relatively low, Finland has been slow to wake up and understand the exploitation mechanisms of foreign workers. Now, there are many actors who are determined to work on these issues: authorities, police, trade unions.
SAK, the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions, has an employee rights hotline that can be reached by telephone and e-mail. It advises employees of foreign origin in questions and problems concerning their employment.
This free of charge service is open to all and does not require trade union membership. The service operates in Finnish and English.
Through the hotline, union experts can check and explain employment contracts should the caller not understand them. They can explain the correct wage and shift work or holiday bonus in your branch.
Where the union is strong, workers can always better defend their rights.
Also, if you are facing harassment or discrimination at work, the experts will offer help and advice on how to deal with it. What the hotline doesn’t do, is contact your employer or find a job for you.
Last year, the SAK hotline responded to 417 people. Almost half of the questions concerned pay, typically on shift work and holiday bonuses.
Some 20 per cent of questions concerned terminating the work contract. Increasingly, employment is disguised as entrepreneurial work thus leaving the worker without annual holiday pay and occupational health service.
There are many sources to find accurate information on the rules of working life in Finland. SAK unions have a joint website, www.tyoelamanpelisaannot.fi. It provides all basic facts in 20 languages.
Victim Support Finland is an authority to contact in case you suspect you are the victim of a crime like labour exploitation. On their website www.riku.fi is a short animated film about workers’ rights in 16 languages and notes on the features of labour exploitation.
And, of course, the trade union always helps its members in every way. Where the union is strong, workers can always better defend their rights. Don’t mourn, organise!
SAK EMPLOYEE RIGHTS HOTLINE
0800 414 004
Mon 2–5 pm, Tue & Wed 9–11 am, 12–3 pm.