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Proposal to ease recruitment of foreign workers riles Finland's unions

A proposal from five MPs to do away with a restriction on the recruitment of non-European workers has provoked a heated response from Finland's blue-collar unions. The ensuing recriminations have led the bill's primary backer, Left Alliance MP Anna Kontula, to say that the heads of Finland's largest union SAK should "learn some manners".

Left Alliance MP Anna Kontula Image: Jarno Kuusinen / AOP

Saatavuusharkinta (Availability deliberation) is a legal Finnish requirement that obliges cleaning, hospitality, logistics and construction sectors businesses that are searching for workers to first assess whether local applicants are available before they can hire people from outside Europe. A work permit is only granted to foreign recruits if the company can prove they could find no unemployed Finnish residents to do the job. 

A proposal to do away with the requirement has been introduced in the Finnish Parliament, sponsored by the Left Alliance MP Anna Kontula, centre-right National Coalition Party MP Juhana Vartiainen, Swedish People's Party MP Veronica Rehn-Kivi, Green MP Emma Kari and Social Democrat MP Tytti Tuppurainen.

A solution to sector-specific labour shortages

The bill has already received the support of over 100 MPs, many of whom feel the requirement makes it too difficult to bring foreign labour into the country. Proponents argue that no one has been able to prove that providing employment to immigrants has had an effect on the employment opportunities of people already living in the country.

Kyösti Suokas, Deputy Chair of the Finnish Construction Trade Union, has devoted several blog posts to attacking the proposal, saying that Kontula has no idea what the implications of her move will be. He has called the idea to introduce cheap labour a "plot of the far-left and far-right" and accuses Kontula of "bowing to immigrants" due to a need to stay in the headlines.

Kontula responded by saying that many of the union representatives' statements about the proposal are false and misleading. Among other things, directors of Finland's largest union federation SAK reportedly said that "Kontula's bill aims to help undocumented people get work so they don't have to leave the country. This presents security problems and the risk that [Finland's system of] work terms and conditions will be completely destroyed."

She says this statement is a clear distortion and wonders why the real issue can't be discussed without hyperbole.

Rational discussion elusive

Left Alliance party chair Li Andersson says it's regrettable that the union representatives' responses to the proposal have attacked Kontula personally. 

"They have even questioned her motives. It goes without saying that no one in the Left Alliance would do anything to weaken the position of Finnish workers," she argues.

She says her party doesn't have an official stand on dismantling the requirement, but posits that it is equal foreign workers' rights that is at issue, as the assessment is not required if the recruited workers are from the 31 countries in the European Economic Area.

"A rational discussion on this issue has been buried under a war of words," she says.

Jarkko Eloranta of SAK agrees with Andersson's appraisal, but says he understands why the Construction Trade Union has taken such a strong stand. He says the union and the building sector in general have worked hard to ensure that there are fair game rules in play within the EU.

"I haven't contacted MP Kontula yet, but on Monday I thought I would ask her to itemise the mistakes we made in our statement, so we can discuss them," says the union boss.