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Berry firms trim Thai pickers' minimum wages

Finnish berry firms and Thai officials agreed on a minimum wage of 2,200 euros, down from the 3,000 originally tabled.

Marjanpoimintaa Kärsämäellä
Berry firms have said that consumer prices will rise because of additional coronavirus-related costs. Image: Paulus Markkula / Yle

Thai berry pickers will pocket a total of 2,200 euros for their work in Finland this season, following the conclusion of discussions between berry firms and Thai authorities.

Last summer daily Helsingin Sanomat reported that Thailand had requested a minimum wage of 3,000 euros per person before it would agree to let Thai workers come to Finland to harvest berries this year.

However both sides were able to reach agreement on a lower sum.

"Even [Thai] officials said that since the season will be short they would compromise on the minimum payment," CEO Vernu Vasunta of Suomussalmi firm Kiantama Ltd said.

Yle received confirmation of the change from several berry picking firms. However officials from the Thai embassy declined comment on the matter, while Finnish officials were not involved in the wage discussions.

Finnish firms were also asked to pay 40,000 Thai baht or 1,000 euros per person as a guarantee of the minimum wage payment.

"Of course it makes you think. But not getting the Thai pickers and keeping our plants closed for half a year was not an option," Vasunta added.

2020 a good year

Despite the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 crisis, 2020 has been a good year for berry crops and pickers have even been able to harvest more fruit than last year.

Before the forest workers arrived in Finland, berry firms knew that they would have a good crop, which helped ease their position. A poor crop would have meant an entirely different situation.

"We’ve now had three to four good years in a row. But during the past 16 years there have been times when they would not have earned that kind of money under any circumstances," Jukka Kristo, CEO of Rovaniemi-based Polarica Ltd said.

However according to Kristo, there are nevertheless problems with a minimum wage in the industry.

"If this were continuous it would destroy this sector. It seems crazy to guarantee any picking income without workers needing to pick [berries]. Some would probably like to try their luck and see if it’s even worthwhile to work," Kristo continued.

Corona-related costs increase berry prices

In addition to a minimum wage, Thai authorities also called on Finnish firms to foot the cost of coronavirus tests and a two-week quarantine at a Thai hotel once the berry pickers return home.

Berry firms said that these special terms have resulted in additional expenses totalling hundreds of thousands of euros.

"In the end the season was successful despite many difficulties. But these additional expenses will significantly increase the price of berries. We are talking about a few dozen cents per kilogram," explained Janna Naapanki, CEO of Arctic International Ltd of Sotkamo in eastern Finland.

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