EU asks Finland to improve conditions of Thai berry pickers

Rapporteur Markku Wallin, who has examined the working conditions of foreign seasonal workers who come to Finland to pick berries in the forests, proposes that contracts of employment be established between pickers and the companies that buy berries and that the work is subject to an employment relationship.

Photo: Yle
Photo: Yle

The current situation is that berry pickers are not regarded as being employed nor are they regarded as self-employed. Over 4,000 people come to Finland as berry pickers each year, the majority from Thailand.

“The legal status of berry pickers needs to be clarified because the risks to the pickers are great and they are in a weak position,” judged Wallin. There are three factors in favour of a change in the situation: the need to reduce the problems that have been found in the berry pickers’ conditions, the improved infor-mation developed in recent years regarding the factors that affect the conditions of the pickers, and the Seasonal Workers Directive just approved by the EU, which covers a lacuna in the regulations.
If berry picking is done on the basis of a contract of employment, the whole of Finland’s labour legislation must be applied to the pickers, unless the law allows for exceptions in its application. The income of pick-ers with a contract of employment is taxed as salaried income in accordance with the lower rate for sea-sonal work. Employed status would also bring pickers into the pay security scheme.

“In respect of employed status, forest berry pickers would be treated in the same way as pickers employed in gardens and berry plantations who can work for several employers simultaneously or in succession. In Sweden, picking carried out under employed status has still been profitable for the berry buyers”, says Wallin. Another legal avenue, i.e. separate legislation, was considered as a possible, but worse, alternative by Mr Wallin.
In addition, he drew attention to the berry industry’s low degree of processing in Finland. “The international image of Finland’s forest berries would be improved by marketing and developing new food products and special products for the health and beauty sector,” observed Wallin. Berries are currently sold to Japan, for example, for further processing.

On the 7th October, 2013, the Ministry of Employment and the Economy and the Ministry for Foreign Af-fairs asked Director General Markku Wallin, to put forward proposals to rectify the anomalies in the condi-tions of foreign forest berry pickers.

During the investigation, Wallin consulted representatives of the labour market associations, the food in-dustry, the authorities, berry picking companies and the relevant embassies, berry pickers and both do-mestic and international experts and associations such as the IOM and ILO as well as the Thai authorities. The investigation was supported by an interest group composed of experts from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Ministry of the Environment.

Source: Ministry of Employment and Economy

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