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Finnish berry firms oppose changes to employment terms with Thai pickers

The legislative change would see seasonal workers deemed as employees instead of self-employed light entrepreneurs, but berry companies argue pickers do not want the rules to change either.

Thai-poimijat keräävät mustikkaa Luumäellä 2018.
File photo of Thai berry pickers working in a Finnish forest. Image: Yle/Mikko Savolainen
Yle News

Finnish berry companies are unhappy about a pending amendment to regulations governing seasonal work, which would see pickers deemed employees and not self-employed light entrepreneurs.

The legislative change would apply mostly to berry pickers coming to Finland from Thailand during the summer months. In the past, these pickers have been classified as self-employed, although in practice they are completely dependent on the berry companies.

Finland's berry picking industry has been rocked by a series of human trafficking scandals, most recently involving a high-ranking official within the Ministry of Employment.

The changes are aimed at improving the status of the workers, but berry companies have suggested alternative ways of ensuring that pickers are treated fairly and earn adequate wages.

Berry companies: Pickers prefer status quo

Janne Naapanki, Managing Director of the Kainuu-based Artic International, told Yle that pickers can agree a minimum price in advance as well as an agreed minimum payment that they will receive at the end of the picking season. He added that berry companies have committed themselves to remedy the problems in the industry.

Berry firms have argued that the extra bureaucracy and rising costs associated with the proposed law changes would prevent Thai pickers, who are vital to the industry, from coming to Finland. They further noted that the Thai workers do not want employment contracts and the Thai authorities no longer require one.

In November, Thailand's ambassador to Finland Chavanart Thangsumphant told Yle that providing Thai workers with employment contracts could be a good way to prevent any exploitation in the sector.

However, Birgitta Partanen, Executive Director of the industry's Arctic Flavours Association, said that there has since been a change of mind in Thailand, with authorities there now wanting to follow the wishes of the pickers.

"Pickers prefer to come to Finland under the current model and are more satisfied with it than with the Swedish model," Partanen said.

In Sweden, berry pickers are employed by the companies, as opposed to being light entrepreneurs, as with the Finnish model.

Partanen further noted that the ministry's proposal and requests for opinions on the amendment to the seasonal work regulation have not yet reached the berry companies. The association and the berry companies will submit a joint statement to the ministry by early February.

In Finland, some 80-90 percent of the berries sold to businesses are picked by foreign workers. In the summer of 2022, an estimated 4,000 pickers arrived in Finland from Thailand.

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