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

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