Saturday, March 6, 2010

Exploitation of Migrant Workers in Finland

Yesterday, while reading a newspaper - HELSINKI TIMES, an article entitled " Ethnicity and health most common forms of work-related discrimination" caught my attention and reminded me of the need to shed light on the exploitation of migrant workers in Finland.

A migrant worker, as defined by Article 2 (1) of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers) is:

"... a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State to which he or she is not a national."
Migrant workers are predominantly a vulnerable group because of socio-political and economic reasons. Unemployment and economic instability prompts governments to give preference to nationals over foreigners seeking employment. The vulnerability of migrant workers is evidenced by the low rates of ratifications of the international conventions such as the ILO Migration for Employment Convention (Revised) , 1947 and the Migrant Workers Convention, 1975 - that seek to give migrant workers the "dignity they deserve as human beings." Many states (mostly western democracies), have not ratified the aforementioned conventions, leaving migrant workers exposed to untold challenges and human rights violations within their borders. In Finland, blatant exploitation of migrant workers is not uncommon.

I've been on the ground in Finland and seen it first hand - discrimination at the work place, xenophobia, reduced employment opportunities, gross exploitation, long workdays without appropriate compensation, you name it. This is the story of the average migrant worker in Finland.

Recently, my attention was drawn to the case of an African who was assigned a particular task at work, with 6 hours to get it done. It was clear that the African employee needed more time to effectively and conveniently do the job. A few days later, the employer reduced the number of hours - to 5 hours - for the same task. As if this was not enough, the unscrupulous employer added some more work. In other words, reduced number of working hours was accompanied by an increase in work load.

This is just one of the many cases of overworked and underpaid migrant workers in Finland, and it is not uncommon to hear such complains from migrant workers in Finland.

Do you think an employer in Finland would do the same to an employee of Finnish descent?

A study conducted by the Finnish League for Human Rights found that health and ethnic origin are the main reasons why discrimination at the work place prevails in Finland.

"In one example of a case, four foreign employees had been inadequately paid, their workdays were long, and they had worked every day of the week without overtime compensation. They also had not been allowed to take their annual leave and had been obligated to perform certain tasks without pay," says the researcher - Mikko Joronen.

Can you relate?

For the purpose of this article, permit me to mention the exploitation of  foreign students in Finland. Foreign students are also in trouble!

They are expected, by Finnish law, to work only 5 hours a day (25 hours a week) in order to have enough time for studies. Unfortunately, employers tend to exploit this limitation - giving students work that would normally take 7-8 hours and expect them to get it done in 5 hours. Talk about overwork and underpay!

In my opinion, the lack of Finnish Labour legislation in English (a language understood by most migrant workers) fuels the exploitation of Migrant workers in Finland. Unscrupulous employers know that employees with foreign backgrounds don't speak or understand the local language; hence do not know their rights and the legal protection available to them.

All in all, it is true that migrant workers in this Scandinavian country are void of dignity and respect. In this vein, I recommend the following:
  • Finland should ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and othe related Covenants.
  • Finnish authorities should provide labour legislation in English.
  • Finland's Occupational Health and Safety Inspectorate should frequently carry out inspections.
  • The government should crack down on exploitative employers.
  • Victims of work-related exploitation should report to the Occupational Health and Safety Inspectorate.
  • Victims of work-related exploitation should be compensated.
What are your thoughts? Are you a victim of exploitation at the work place? Why would a "democracy" fail to ratify Conventions designed to protect migrant workers? More importantly, what would be your advise to an exploited migrant worker?

As usual, I look forward to reading your comments.

For more information (statistics and surveys) about migrant workers in Finland, click here.


  1. Are you absolutely sure that Finland has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers? Not that I doubt your words, it's indeed possible that Finland hasn't ratified that particular treaty, but generally Finland is very good at signing every imaginable treaty. It is only when it comes to applying a treaty in practice that Finland tends to fail.

  2. Thanks for weighing in Martin-Éric.

    I agree with you on the fact that Finland is good at ratifying Conventions and not so good at fulfilling the obligations that ensue.

    That said - the last time I checked, Finland had not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers or any other related Convention. Here's a list of countries that have signed and/or ratified the convention:

  3. And have you bothered to check if reduction of hours is somehow unique to migrant workers?

    Sounds like African in question was working as cleaner. If you had bothered to study the issue properly, you would notice that FINNISH workers face same problem.

    But why let facts and studying background of issue properly to stand in the way of making good sobby stories.


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