According to foreign employees, there are a lot of good things about Finnish working life – low hierarchies, easily approachable supervisors, work-life balance, and the bond of trust between employers and employees. Difficulties are caused by residence permit procedures, lack of information about working life, and a language barrier. For many people, the trade union movement remains remote.
According to a recent study, foreign employees view Finland in a positive light. The attractiveness factors that affected the interviewees’ decision to move to the country were, among others, high-quality education, clean nature, good public services and democracy.
Those with families regarded Finland as a good country for their children’s future. The interviewees had either a positive or neutral attitude to the trade union movement, but they know little about it even after moving to Finland. About half of those who were interviewed were members of their sector’s trade union, and some were actives. Some had turned to the trade union in problematic situations and received advice and support, but one member of the YTK Unemployment Fund was disappointed in the lack of advisory services. When it comes to workplaces, the trade union movement was visible mainly in the health care sector.
The Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors JHL is financing a recent study where this is shown. Foreigners working in blue-collar occupations within the social welfare and health care sector, service sector, construction sector and agriculture were interviewed for the study. The research material consists of 25 qualitative interviews that were conducted in five languages between December 2022 and April 2023. The material provides information about the experiences people have had in Finland. The study was carried out by E2 Research as part of a research project named Building Finland’s Future (“Tulevaisuuden Suomen tekijät”).
Foreigners struggle at the beginning of their careers
Typically, the problems of the interviewees have taken place after the people have entered the country. Some of those who were interviewed explain that there were unclarities in their terms and conditions of employment. Challenges included a lack of language skills, unfamiliarity with the rules of working life and a possible young age. However, people appreciate the fact that there is both order and rules in working life.
“When I was a so-called foreigner in my twenties, my attitude towards my employer was that the employer explains all the terms and conditions of employment and at the end of the day I have no choice but to accept them — My monthly net pay was 800 euros at the first company I worked at as a construction assistant in the 2000s. On the other hand, I worked 12-hour days from Monday to Saturday — after three months, I understood that everything wasn’t right with the working conditions.”
“I would under no circumstances have worked as a cleaner in Kosovo. Cleaners are looked down on, there’s no appreciation and they’re not regarded as part of the work community. In Finland however, one respects cleaners, too – – the behaviour of supervisors is much more humane and better here. Working life in Finland is a lot better, too. For instance, there’s no employment contract in Kosovo, and your supervisor can fire you whenever they want. There’s no employment protection.”
However, the majority of the interviewees have managed to improve their working life status little by little. Finnish language skills are regarded as important. Knowing the language helps a person make friends and makes it easier to understand Finnish society. Many people are proud of the fact that they can earn a living for themselves and their families.
– We’re going to be needing a lot of foreign employees. When a person enters a new country and strange culture, they’re in a very vulnerable position for a while. They should gain smooth access to work and society. Our society should be alert when it comes to this, and the trade union movement needs to look at itself in the mirror. We must give better support to foreign employees, President of Trade Union JHL Päivi Niemi-Laine states.
JHL has taken action and started immigrant activities. In spring 2023, JHL published a report dealing with labour immigration named “Suomi ikääntyy – työperäinen maahanmuutto avuksi hoivapommiin” in which JHL for instance suggests that a Working Life Passport should be adopted. The idea is that everyone who enters the Finnish labour market would systematically be offered information about how society and the labour market work, and about employee rights and obligations. It would enable to prevent workforce misconduct while lightening the bureaucracy related to immigration as a whole. Everyone who enters working life should systematically be educated about the strengths and practices of Finnish society and working life that seem self-evident.
– It’s important that newcomers know where to get help for working life problems, and for that a mix of skills that for instance the Working Life Passport provides is necessary. Meanwhile, unions must become more active towards immigrants of working age. This is a good moment for developing new operational methods. Starting from the beginning of 2025, employment, economic development and integration services will be transferred to municipalities, JHL’s Special Advisor Samuli Sinisalo reminds.
Sinisalo is the co-author of JHL’s publication. He is also in the steering group for research institute E2’s project Building Finland’s Future.
Room for improvement in immigration processes
According to the employees who were interviewed, getting a permanent residence permit increases a person’s feeling of enjoyment in Finland because it diminishes insecurity related to the future and encourages to, say, pursue studies that promote a person’s career. When a person’s residence permit is not tied to their employer, that makes it possible to intervene in shortcomings.
The negative experiences have to do with racism and the prejudices that Finnish people have towards immigrants. Some people feel that both clients and supervisors evaluate the work input of foreign employees more critically than that of Finnish employees. Many people have had challenges with income limits.
Integration is helped by getting one’s family to Finland, and by the feeling of enjoyment experienced by the spouse and children.
“When you’re alone, you sometimes feel homesick. However, now my family is here and everything is fine. – – I’m much happier compared to when I was here alone.”
– It’s good to remember that those coming to Finland are always people. There is increasing competition for international workforce, and Finland’s need is especially large within blue-collar occupations and, say, the social welfare and health care sector. We must treat foreign employees as people and ensure that they have good conditions in working life and outside it, President Päivi Niemi-Laine says.