Some employers are taking advantage of immigrants in Finland, says lawyer at SAK

Wages, employment contracts and unemployment benefits are among the top concerns of immigrant employees in Finland, according to SAK.

The Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) has revealed that a half of the people who have used its free employee rights consultation service for immigrants are employed in the service sector – most commonly as cleaners, waiters or assistants.

“The findings are not surprising. The service sectors usually provide people of foreign background their first jobs in Finland,” Niko Ohvo, a lawyer specialising in employee rights at SAK, says in a press release.

SAK launched the free consultation service in March, 2016.

Approximately 20 per cent of the enquiries dealt with the collective agreement for property management employees, 17 per cent with the collective agreement for staff in the hospitality industry and 14 per cent with the collective agreement for private social workers, according to SAK.

“The majority contacted our service in English,” tells Ohvo. “For example, many had difficulty understanding the contents of a collective agreement and hoped that it could be translated into English.”

Some of the enquiries are related to simple misunderstandings – especially in cases related to small businesses – and some to cases of employers taking advantage of uninformed employees, he added in an interview with STT.

SAK reveals that the majority of the enquiries were made by people who had moved to Finland from elsewhere in Europe. Employees from Africa, it adds, were the most likely and employees from Estonia the least likely to require consultation in comparison to their proportion of the immigrant population of Finland.

“Estonians and immigrants from other nearby countries typically require less time than immigrants from other countries to integrate into the Finnish labour market. They are also more likely to be unionised. Most of our callers are not members of a trade union,” comments Ohvo.

He also points out that the concerns of immigrant employees are largely comparable to those of native-born employees, with 14 per cent of them enquiring about employment contracts, 13 per cent about wages and 9 per cent about unemployment benefits. The nationality of callers, however, did correlate with the nature of their enquiries.

“Europeans are mainly worried about wage entitlements, whereas Asian and African employees usually asked about matters related to residence permits,” he explains.

Immigrant employees, for example, are often unaware that they are entitled to an annual leave and holiday pay, he added in an interview with Ajantasa, a current affairs programme broadcast on YLE Radio Suomi.

SAK reveals that it received a total of 217 enquiries during the first year after the launch of the consultation service. The number, it adds, increased especially during the first half of this year.

The service is part of At Work in Finland, a project subsidised by the European Social Fund (ESF) and administered by the City of Helsinki. Service Union United (PAM) and the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors (JHL) have similarly contributed towards the operation costs of the service.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

Photo: Heikki Saukkomaa – Lehtikuva

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