Foreign seasonal workers have begun arriving for work at Finnish farms and greenhouses. Domestic producers say they have been able to plan with much more certainty than last spring, when it was unclear whether any foreign labourers would be allowed into the country.
The Jukkola family, whose farm in Kokkola on the west coast produces berries and carrots, is satisfied with the instructions received for hiring seasonal labour this time.
"The availability of labour was guaranteed early enough. Contracts were signed beginning in January. We've received good instructions from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry on how to proceed," says farmer Elina Jukkola.
Coordinated charter flights
The Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners (MTK) launched its Töitä Suomesta ("Work in Finland") service for seasonal agricultural workers in early 2019. Since the pandemic began, it has worked to arrange the coronavirus-safe entry of foreign labour. The MTK is coordinating direct weekly charter flights from Kiev, Ukraine to Finland.
"The first flights have already arrived, and they will continue until the end of June," said MTK Director of Business Development Marko Mäki-Hakola.
He said that the charter flights and the transport of workers to their workplaces are Covid-safe. Each worker must have a certificate indicating a recent negative coronavirus test.
"When workers arrive in Finland, they are transported directly to their workplaces in a corona-safe way and quarantined on the premises," explained Mäki-Hakola. They are tested again after arriving in Finland.
About 3,000 labourers came on chartered flights last year. This year, it is estimated that more than 10,000 seasonal workers will arrive from abroad. Most are expected from Ukraine, Russia and Thailand.
Food served during quarantine
Twenty seasonal workers from Ukraine are coming to work on the Jukkola family farm.
"We will have three different groups at different times, and everyone will have their own space. We get food for them during the quarantine period, when they stay in their own premises," says Jukkola.
Last year there were some Covid-19 outbreaks related to groups of foreign labourers, including at greenhouses, a shipyard and a wind farm.
Jukkola says that this year each farm must draw up a health and safety plan together with the chief infection doctor of the local hospital district.
Seasonal work for thousands
As of the beginning of April, the Finnish Immigration Service had approved some 7,300 applications for seasonal work certificates, and there were another 1,200 applications awaiting processing. A seasonal work certificate entitles the holder to work in Finland for up to 90 days.
About 460 seasonal work residence permits, on the other hand, have been issued and there are 470 applications in the queue. This permit entitles a worker to stay for 3-9 months.
In addition to foreign labour, farms also need domestic seasonal workers. Altogether this year, an estimated 16,000 seasonal workers will be needed throughout Finland.