Finnish Berry farms and suppliers invite thousands of seasonal workers from Thailand to Finland to pick wild berries next summer.
According to First Secretary Vesa Häkkinen from the Unit for Passports and Visas at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, a total of 3,500 pre-qualification assessments for visas to Finland have so far been submitted to the Finnish representation in Bangkok.
Häkkinen adds that the problem evidently is that the farther away the berry-pickers come from, the higher the related expenses are. A flight ticket alone costs more than a berry-picker’s annual income would be in Thailand. In addition, the picker has to pay for a visa and possibly even a fee to an agent in Thailand. In Finland he or she has to pay for accommodation, transport, petrol, and food.
”The process involves unscrupulous collection of money at nearly every stage. I regard it as a kind of extortion. It is not trafficking in human beings but it is something similar. Juridically, everybody comes here at their own risk, like self-financing entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, it is a major ethical issue”, Häkkinen says to Helsingin Sanomat
A total of some 12,000 foreign berry-pickers arrive in Finland every year. Most of them come from the neighbouring areas of Russia and the Baltic States. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs recommends that berry farms should increasingly hire pickers who come from the neighbouring countries. Then it would be easier to react to the situation if the prospects for the berry crop appear to be worse than usual.
”Last year the season was poor, but it is never possible to know the situation in advance. When berry-pickers come to Finland from far-off countries with high hopes of earning money, and the berry-picking season turns out to be worse than expected, they have no money for a return trip”, Häkkinen adds.
Most seasonal Thai workers come to Finland in order to pick wild berries. In practice, berry farms and berry processing companies invite berry-pickers to Finland and then buy the berries they have picked. The income may be low if the berry crop remains poor, but if the season is good, many can earn a year’s income from picking wild blueberries and lingonberries and selling them to berry buyers.
Berry-pickers from Thailand are preferred as they are in a league of their own, says Export Manager Ben Strömsten from Riitan Herkku.
“They are diligent pickers and easy team members, which cannot always be said of those foreign workers who come from the neighbouring areas”, he says.