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Double testing, vaccines for seasonal migrant workers

Under new rules, every farm that hires seasonal workers must have a health safety plan and a health contact person.

Alexandra Bogolyubova mansikkapellolla luuppi kädessä.
The rules are now clear, but there is more paperwork, says Alexandra Bogolyubova from Nenonen's berry farm. Image: Marianne Mattila / Yle

Health regulations for agricultural enterprises employing seasonal workers are now more straightforward than one year ago.

"Last year we had to make many different plans for the year and the lack of clarity was tough," recalls Alexandra Bogolyubova of the Nenonen berry farm in Suonenjoki in Finland's North Savo region.

Now, berry growers in the area say they are satisfied with the detailed instructions provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry on how to proceed when seasonal workers arrive.

Over the past few weeks, about 150 Ukrainian seasonal workers have arrived in Finland on weekly flights. Further flights will be added as needed. The total number of Ukrainian workers expected to take up jobs on Finnish farms this summer is the same as a year ago, about 6,000.

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Anton Chistikov seisoo mansikkapellon laidassa.
Anton Chistikov from Petrozavodsk was among the first to start working at the Nenonen farm this season. Image: Marianne Mattila / Yle
Seasonal workers from Russia mainly arrive from across the border in their own cars.

Testing and quarantine

"In principle, seasonal workers are subject to the same entry-related health safety measures as other passengers arriving in Finland," says Paula Tiittala, Chief Physician of the Safety and Health Department of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

Those arriving in Finland are advised to have a coronavirus test in their country of origin in advance, or to carry a certificate of recovery from Covid-19. In the absence of the required documents, entrants are directed to testing immediately upon arrival in the country. People who have been vaccinated are also being tested.

"Currently, THL does not recommend exemptions from testing for people who have received the Covid-19 vaccine," Tiittala explains.

After arrival and testing, a voluntary 14-day quarantine is recommended. However, quarantine can be shortened by a second test taken three days after arrival in the country. Both tests on entry are free of charge.

However, doctors in charge of communicable diseases in municipalities or hospital districts are empowered to order quarantines if deemed necessary.

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Juha Nenonen nojaa vajan seinään mansikkapellon laidassa.
Juha Nenonen's strawberry farm will employ about 50-60 Ukrainian and Russian, and three Finnish seasonal workers this year. Image: Marianne Mattila / Yle
The second test is intended to speed up the start of work for seasonal workers. For example, workers who arrive at the Nenonen farm are first transported from the airport to the farm, where they have a second test in quarantine after three days. Workers are arriving in staggered groups, so accommodation has been organised in such a way that only come into contact with members of their own group.

"It is hoped that no one has been exposed to the virus, and no one tests positive," says berry farmer Juha Nenonen.

Health safety plan

Various ad hoc arrangements were made at the Nenonen berry farm a year ago to deal with the pandemic. This year, according to the ministry instructions, a farm-specific health safety plan has been drawn up for the season.

The health safety plan encompasses the use of face masks, gloves, hand washing areas and litter bins with lids. In addition, the plan includes instructions on how to deal with potentially exposed or symptomatic workers.

There must also be a health contact person on the farm. At the Nenonen farm, Bogolyubova, who is fluent in Russian, has taken on that responsibility.

The health contact person is to help employees with situations ranging from running out of disinfectant to getting ill, and is also a link to local healthcare. The contact person notifies the health authorities of the arrival of workers and makes arrangements for their tests.

Vaccinations can be available

It is also possible for seasonal workers to receive the coronavirus vaccine while in Finland.

Any employee who has a residence permit for seasonal work has the same right to use public healthcare services in Finland as local residents, regardless of whether he or she comes from an EU country or from outside the EU.

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Käsidesikannu, maskipakkaus ja kahvinkeitin vierekkäin keittiönpöydällä.
Masks and hand disinfectant ready in the farm workers' kitchen. Image: Marianne Mattila / Yle
Upon request, the Social Insurance Institution Kela will issue a certificate of entitlement to care benefits. If a seasonal worker wishes to access public care, contact should be made with Kela as soon as possible after arrival. The employer may also file for the certification if the employee has agreed to allowing the employer to act on his or her behalf..

"The municipality assesses the individual's status for receiving the vaccine, for example, if there is enough time [while resident] to give the vaccine series," says Tiittala.

The vaccine series means that the vaccines used in Finland are given in two doses at an interval of 12 weeks.

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