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Carlos: The Union Is Your Champion

Carlos Carrara, 39, has lived in Finland for six years. He has a career in caregiving and is popular with his clients. Carlos is today a card-carrying union activist. He is working in a project to bring more caregivers to the union. Carlos informs caregivers about their rights such as paid vacations and bonus holiday pay.

Carlos Carrara, 39, hails from São Paulo, Brazil. He came to Finland in the fall of 2014 as an automation engineering exchange student.  He fell in love with a Finn with whom he had a distance relationship after he returned to Brazil. In 2018, he made his way back to Finland and married her in June the same year. Things did not work out and the couple divorced six months later. Carlos had gone to the trouble of settling in Finland, and did not want to return to Brazil, where the political/economical situation was not good and would not improve for a long time. It is hard to find work in Brazil, and relocating can be difficult even for highly skilled Brazilian nationals.

In Brazil, Carlos had taught History in comprehensive and high school, and written text books for young pupils. Already in his teenage years, he had taken nursing classes in high school, because his family wished that he pursue a career in Medicine.

”After all the suffering in my previous relationship, and what with living abroad, I knew that I would become depressed if I did not find something to do. I received 2-3 months worth of Kela benefits. I felt it was not fair, since I had not yet contributed.”

Carlos started work as a cleaner and part-time caregiver in June 2019. Cleaning was hard work, and problems in the industry have been widely reported in the media.

Entry-Level Jobs for Immigrants

Caregiving, on the other hand, soon blossomed into a full-time occupation by the end of the year. The patients’ illnesses sometimes stress them out, and they can be short-tempered, but the caregiver has to empathize. Carlos believes that is why he is so popular with his clients. Although naturally talkative, he is learning to listen.

”Currently I work full-time for a lady who has multiple sclerosis, plus I do gardening for another person, maybe 10-20 hours per month. It is nice to sit and have coffee with her after the work in the garden is done.”

Carlos stresses how important it is to be open-minded when looking for work, and give a chance to an occupation that maybe would not be your first choice.

”If you speak Finnish or even English, you will find a way. I can’t insist on being a history teacher or an engineer in Finland. In Brazil, we have few emergency benefits and they are not enough to live on at all. It is still, even in corona times, breadcrumbs to keep the mob quiet. In Finland, people can live decently on the dole for a year! I feel grateful that I received support when I needed it.”

Carlos Harrara

Now Life Is Good

Carlos is happy with his current life.

”I have a car of my own. I’m in a new relationship and I can start to design my dream business for the future without much worry about a decrease in my life quality. There is much less violence here than in São Paulo, my home town. Tampere is a great place to live, we have culture and I can swim in a lake whenever I want to.”

Now Carlos is focussing on learning Finnish.

”Now that my work is steady, my next goal is to learn Finnish. I want to feel totally integrated into the country I chose to live in. This is the same for every foreigner, no matter the country. You can survive with English as ’lingua franca’, but you can’t get everything you can reach.”

Cultural Differences of Working Life

Carlos joined the trade union in October 2019. He felt fragile at his cleaning job, and his new girlfriend told him to seek help from the union. He attended a trade union course. But cultural differences became a problem.

”In Brazil, if you have an issue at work, it is best to complain directly to your union, not to your boss.”

So when union representatives asked him if he had spoken to his boss, Carlos interpreted it as a refusal to help. Frustrated, he spoke to someone else at a JHL course and found out that in Finland, you are not seen as a troublemaker if you take up an issue with your boss. Actually, it is the first step. Carlos also got legal advice that helped.

”But I quit cleaning as soon as I could work as caregiver to the lady with MS. It was more stressful to fight over your wages with my manager than the work itself.”

Unions Are Important to Immigrants

Carlos is today a card-carrying union activist. He is working in a project to bring more caregivers to the union. Caregivers do not have colleagues at their workplace, so you must reach them one by one and urge them to join the union. Carlos informs caregivers about their rights such as paid vacations and bonus holiday pay.

”Unions strengthen the laws that protect employees. Especially the foreign workforce in menial jobs needs protection when they have unsolved issues at work. At the union we have also our own pension support. Going to meetings with union members you can make interesting new friends, construct a network of people that understand your fights, and become more integrated into society. I met some really great people at the union course.”

Text: Susanna Bell