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Essential workers: Thais to pick 90% of berries for Finnish firm

The midseason arrival of hundreds of Thai berry pickers is set to keep an Ostrobothnian company afloat, the firm says.

Jokaisen poimijan marjat punnitaan ja tuloksesta pidetään tarkasti kirjaa. Sunnuntaina saalis jäi 40-60 kiloon per poimija, joskus on päästy yli 200 kiloonkin.
Each picker is responsible for weighing and logging the amount of berries they pick. On Sunday, workers logged between 40-60kg per shift, but some weighed in at more than 200kg. Image: Hanne Leiwo / Yle

The vast majority of wild berries picked commercially in Finland are harvested by Thai migrant workers. But this year such arrangements were threatened by the coronavirus crisis as well as drawn-out legal disputes between Finnish berry firms and Thai workers regarding weighty issues like human trafficking and employee protection laws.

In the middle of the berry season earlier this summer, the Finnish government decided to allow 3,000 Thai migrant workers to come to Finland to pick wild berries. Then, just over a week ago, officials in Thailand gave their permission for the arrangement.

However, that approval hinged on the implementation of strict requirements including rules related to coronavirus safety precautions and a stipulation that each picker will be guaranteed a minimum monthly wage of 3,000 euros.

The arrangements for pickers to begin working was very welcome news for companies like Marja Bothnia Berries in the western municipality of Korsholm, the firm's export manager Amanda Gustafsson told Svenska Yle.

Thais behind nearly all picked berries

Well over 90 percent of the roughly 20 million kilogrammes of wild berries harvested by commercial firms in Finland is picked by Thai workers - and the same trend is seen at Marja Bothnia.

"The Thai berry pickers account for 90 percent of the berries that we receive," she explained.

During the wait for decisions to be made by Finnish and Thai authorities regarding the deployment of the migrant workers, Gustafsson said the company had plenty of time to consider worst-case scenarios.

"We might have had to lay off people," she said.

The company's migrant worker quota was around 600 this year, which may seem to be a large number, however the firm is one of the three biggest berry companies in the country.

"We pick all around the country. From Lapland to eastern Finland and in Ostrobothnia," Gustafsson said.

Bilberries ripe

The export manager said bilberries have been ripe for about a week now and that the pickers usually already arrive this time of the season.

Given that the pickers are arriving just in time, she said it is unlikely the firm will lose significant income this season.

The company organises the picking, cleaning, freezing and delivery of berries to clients around the world.

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