Friday, June 7, 2013

Misguided call against foreign workers by Finnish engineers' union

The role of trade unions is to promote and protect the rights and interests of workers - all workers, including foreign workers - in a given sector. Rarely do trade unions promote views shared by anti-immigration proponents on the far-right of the political divide.

The Union of Professional Engineers in Finland (UIL) is calling for tighter rules to limit the number of foreign workers allowed to work as specialists in Finland's engineering sector. According to a Yle news report, the union believes that loose rules on short-term work permits threatens to take jobs away from Finns.

I see similarities between what UIL is calling for and the anti-immigration rhetoric in Finland's sour immigration debate spear-headed by members of the Finns Party, its MPs and members of far-right organizations that are hostile toward foreigners.

The position of far-right organizations and the populist "True" Finns Party could be aptly described in two Finnish words: "Suomi Suomalaisille" (English: Finland for Finns).

In 2012, James Hirvisaari, a Finns Party MP well-known for his anti-immigration rhetoric and attacks on anything considered foreign - including Swedish language - argued in his controversial "Suomi on Suomalaisten maa" blog post that Finland is for Finns.

In my view, trade unions should not be in the anti-immigration business. Unions should focus on protecting the rights of workers within the framework of collective agreements with employers' representatives. The interests of Finnish workers could be promoted without calling for a discriminatory policy that would infringe foreign workers' right to work. Unions could, for instance, push for capacity building and more training for their members in order to make them more appealing to employers.

Juhanna Vartiainen, head of the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) said "Immigration and unemployment aren't really related. Immigrants don't reduce the likelihood that Finns will get a job, because the number of jobs is not fixed." [Source]

Finland, in my opinion, would be a better place for all if the authorities focus on job creation, not on limiting the number of foreign workers. Limiting the number of foreign workers isn't a credible and ethical solution to rising unemployment, job creation is. Workers in every sector should be able to find work based on academic qualification, experience and skill. There should be no discriminatory limitations on grounds of nationality or origin.

*Photo: Yle

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