Monday, May 27, 2013

Racist blog comment by "Finnish girl"

I have written a lot about racism in Finland and I have no illusion that everyone is happy about the exposure, hence a racist comment in response to my take on racism does not surprise me.

A lot has been written on this blog and elsewhere about what has been described by some victims as "Finnish racism". Some readers are clearly not happy about the exposure and have posted comments online that could be interpreted as expressions of support for racism, xenophobia and discrimination, and as attacks on those who condemn the social ills.

On 26 May 2013 I received a racist and somewhat xenophobic comment in response to a blog post about the ugly face of racism at a bus stop in Finland.

The comment was posted precisely at 2:09 AM using a Google+ account in the name of Anya EE and signed with the words "Finnish girl".

The individual of questionable moral character, hiding behind what seems to be a pseudonym, wrote: "If you dont like Finland you can go back to your tree."

Posting such a comment (see screenshot to the right) in response to an article about racism in your country does your country a disservice. It is like shooting yourself in the foot.

The comment actually supports the argument that racism is a major problem in Finland and that people of African descent are commonly targeted for abuse - usually with impunity.

I like Finland and I will not "go back" anywhere - at least not in the foreseeable future, despite the numerous obstacles faced by people of African descent like me.

What I would do is double my efforts to expose racism in Finland and combat it. We have to find a way to live together in the spirit of mutual respect - irrespective of race, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, language or ethnic origin.

I would not be intimidated by racist and hateful comments. Those who know me know that I do not run away from racist abuse - I face it head on legally and encourage everyone targeted to do the same.

All comments posted on my blog are subject to pre-moderation, which means that they are checked before they appear. I did not approve the comment by "Finnish girl" because it violates my Blog Rules and Regulations. However, I thought it wise to respond and submit it as evidence in the court of public opinion.

*Image of girl typing: YouthNet

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

City of Helsinki shouldn't contract companies exploiting foreign workers

Foreign workers in the cleaning services sector in Finland face exploitation and abuse from employers and sometimes from customers. The authorities, including city councils that award cleaning contracts to companies that violate employment rules and collective agreements share the blame.

According to a Yle report, work safety inspections conducted in about 20 cleaning companies that employ foreign workers revealed problems at every company inspected, and the City of Helsinki is considering contracting the services of one of the companies.

Violations uncovered by inspections carried out this year include irregularities in registering work hours, payment irregularities and employment of workers without work permits.

As a foreign national with experience and connections in Finland's cleaning sector, I am not surprised by news that inspections turned up problems in every cleaning company inspected. What is surprising to me is that the City of  Helsinki is considering contracting a company that violates employment standards.

In my view, companies that do not register work hours exploit workers - intentionally or unintentionally - by not remunerating all work hours since some hours "slip through the cracks". Payment irregularities could mean workers are not paid as per their work contracts and collective agreements. For instance, some foreign employees work without a fixed payment date, hence they can't plan payment of bills, rents and other living expenses because they don't know when they'll be paid.

Workers employed without work permits, in my opinion are vulnerable and subject to exploitation and abuse since they mostly work in hiding and cannot take legal action against exploitation and abuse. Employers take advantage of undocumented workers.

Background checks

The City of Helsinki and all other authorities in Finland, including private sector businesses requesting bids should ensure that bidding companies respect labor laws and collective agreements before contracting their services. This can be done by working closely with labor inspectors and trade unions.

Service suppliers should be subjected to background checks before bid contracts are accepted.

In 2009 I wrote a complaint to the City of Espoo about the exploitation of workers (mostly Africans and Chinese) by a cleaning company operating in Espoo. In reply to my complaint a lawyer at the City of Espoo said, that before contracting companies the city ensures that the companies comply with labor laws and collective agreements. It was hard to believe the lawyer because the company in question, in my assessment, violated many labor standards and collective agreements in the cleaning services sector, including the obligation to register hours spent on the job by all employees. (Read my story, in Finnish, on PAM-lehti).

Exploitative companies that disregard labor regulations, collective agreements and workers' rights should not be given contracts. Contracting such companies sends a wrong message that exploitation of foreign workers is acceptable in Finland.

*Image: The Copenhagen Post

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ask Finland's Minister of Interior to stop detention of innocent children

The International Convention on the Rights of the Child - to which Finland is party - outlaws the detention of children, unless as a last resort and for the shortest possible time (see article 37[b]) and obligates States Parties to ensure that a child seeking asylum receives appropriate protection and assistance (see Article 22). Despite obligations under international law, Finland detains, as a first resort, children seeking asylum for long periods of time.

Amnesty International - Finnish section launched a petition to stop detention of children seeking asylum in Finland. According to the human rights organization, children should be in day care centres, schools or skateparks - not in police detention. Finland detains thousands of people yearly, including people who have fled persecution, war or poverty. They are held in prison-like conditions, although guilty of no crime.

There are children seeking asylum in Finland who live behind closed doors on a daily basis.

I signed Amnesty International's petition asking Minister of Interior Päivi Räsänen whether innocent children belong in police prisons. I believe children should be in homes, preschools, schools and playgrounds - not locked up.

Detention is not in the best interest of a child.

Amnesty's petition urges Minister Räsänen to:
  1. Fulfill the promise to stop detention of unaccompanied children.
  2. Immediately terminate detention of all children, expectant mothers and people traumatized by torture.
  3. Ensure that detention is used only as a last resort and for the shortest possible time. Detention places should develop less restrictive alternatives.
  4. Ensure that Finland comply with human rights obligations in detention.

According to Amnesty International, the government of Finland promised in 2011 to forbid the detention of unaccompanied children and to develop alternatives to detention. The promise was written in the government's program, but it has not been fulfilled. Alternatives to detention have not yet been developed and children are still detained.

Amnesty International states that seeking asylum or a better life is not a crime and detained asylum seekers are not criminals.

I have visited Metsälä Detention Centre, one of the facilities where asylum seekers in Finland are detained. It is located in Helsinki and I can confirm that the facility is like a prison. Children are detained there. It has one "playground" with no appropriate recreational facilities for kids.

In my view, the Metsälä facility is called a "detention centre", but it is in fact a prison. It is no place for children, especially children who have done absolutely nothing wrong. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Unacceptable ban on Sikh turbans by bus company in Finland

There are lots of good people working tirelessly in Finland to promote diversity, but stories regularly come to light that portray Finnish society as intolerant and disrespectful of the identity of ethnic and religious minorities, including Muslims, people of African descent and now, Sihks.

A bus company in Finland banned bus drivers from wearing the turban behind the wheel. The turban, it is worth mentioning, is a headwear and religious identity of Sikhs - followers of Sikhism.

A Sikh bus driver, Gill Sukhdarshan Singh, would like to wear the turban during work, but his employer, Veolia Transport Vantaa, banned the use of the turban in February, according to Helsingin Sanomat. Other bus companies in Finland reportedly support the ban.

The Managing Director of Pohjolan Liikenne, service jobs require "neutral dressing" that don't "stir up passions".

In my view, I do not see how turbans stir up passions. I see a ban on turbans behind the wheel as an infringement on freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It is a threat to all visible religious minorities in Finland, including Muslim women - many of whom wear the veil. Should bus companies like Veolia have their way, Muslim women would also be forced to take off their veils before working as bus drivers.

According to the Transport Manager of another bus company called Nobina, the ban is for security reasons.

"Security", it should be noted, is commonly invoked to justify human rights infringements around the world, including the existence of Guantanamo Bay detention facility - a hallmark of torture, cruel and inhumane treatment.

I am not surprised therefore that security was put forward as an excuse for a clear attack on Sikhism in Finland.

I applaud Gill Sukhdarshan Singh's decision to take the matter to the Ombudsman for Minorities and to court. Giving in without a fight to an attack on freedoms and liberties is not a good option. People whose rights, freedoms and civil liberties are threatened or infringed in Finland and elsewhere should, like Singh, have the courage to demand redress.

According to Helsingin Sanomat, the bus driver in question does not want to loose his job. He is standing up in order to secure his son's freedom to use to turban. He is ready to go to court on behalf of his children, which in my assessment is an honorable thing to do.

Finland is party to international treaties that guarantee freedom of thought, conscience and religion - such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (article 18) and the European Convention on Human Rights (article 9).

It remains to be seen what the court will decide, but given Finland's obligations under international law it would be a slam-dunk case in Singh's favor.

*Image: Migrant Tales.

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