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3,500 work permits granted to Thai berry pickers

Record berry harvests are forecast again this year, as thousands of seasonal workers are to be brought over to work on the country's farms and in the forests. Seasonal pickers in Finland created tens of millions of euros in revenue for berry-selling companies last year, yet their status means they are not entitled to the rights that other workers are afforded.

Thaimaalaiset marjanpoimijat kantavat marjasankoja metsässä.
Thousands of berry pickers are shipped to Finland every year to work in forests and on farms. Image: Antti Kolppo / Yle

Some 3,500 visas have been issued to Thai seasonal workers to pick berries in Finland over the summer, a similar amount to last year.

In total around 14,000 seasonal fruit-pickers from countries requiring visas are expected to be brought to Finland this summer, of whom 9,000 are likely to be shipped in from Ukraine to work as pickers on the country’s berry farms. Other workers are recruited from Russia.

Most workers will arrive from mid July, when blueberries become ripe.

A further 200 people in Thailand have applied for residence permits in order to work as interpreters, cooks and drivers for the pickers, the Foreign Ministry reported Thai employment authorities as saying.

Workers have the right to stay in the country for up to 90 days.

Regulatory no-man’s land

The plight of seasonal workers brought into Finland to pick berries has garnered attention in the past with cases of employers leaving pickers unpaid or without proper accommodation. Seasonal workers largely operate in a regulatory no-man’s land in which they are not considered to be employees or entrepreneurs, and therefore do not enjoy the protection that other workers are afforded.

In 2014 an association representing the Thai berry pickers drew up an agreement demanding that workers should be left with 30 euros a day.

Most berries foreign-picked

Foreign pickers collect most of Finland’s blueberries and lingonberries, with 86 percent of the Finnish berries sold last year having been collected by pickers from abroad. The Agency for Rural Affairs says that sales of domestically picked berries generated 21.5 million euros in turnover last year.

Last year record amounts were collected – 7.2 million kilos of blueberries and 10 million of lingonberries.

This year, Finland’s Natural Resources Institute forecasts another record year for blueberries, which should ripen by mid July in the south and centre of the country, and a few weeks later in the north. The amount of lingonberries should be closer to average, the institute says.

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