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Filipino nurses undervalued, underpaid in Finland

An Yle investigation finds Filipino nurses recruited by private care companies in Finland don't always get the work they signed up for.

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Image: Jaakko Mäntymaa / Yle

A probe by Yle finds that many Filipino nurses in Finland work as low-paid care assistants despite holding academic nursing qualifications. Some said they had to pay local staffing agencies hefty recruitment fees to secure positions in Finland.

Finnish private care providers began recruiting Filipino nurses around a decade ago to address health worker shortages.

Most nurses from the Philippines find that they are given care assistant duties at elder care homes when starting work in Finland. In time, many go on to complete practical nursing degrees in Finland despite holding more advanced qualifications from their home country.

Medical watchdog Valvira has said it's unnecessary for Filipino nurses to study practical nursing in Finland. Care companies, however, encourage the degree as many municipalities demand that private care home staff hold a diploma from a Finnish institution. Nursing is a four-year qualification in the Philippines and Finnish experts have agreed the degree is of high standard.

Certification challenges

Earlier this year a scandal over negligent care standards in privately-run homes for the elderly prompted Foreign Minister Timo Soini to call for Finland to attract more nurses from the Philippines.

Finland, however, still lacks a plan on how to steer the nurses arriving here into actual nursing duties, said Päivi Vartiainen, whose research showed that Finland is essentially wasting foreign nurses’ education.

Vartiainen said Filipino nurses' qualifications are downgraded when they arrive in Finland.

“The pay for care assistants is low and will not meet salary requirements that would allow them to bring their spouse or children to Finland,” Vartiainen added.

In Finland, healthcare companies Esperi and Attendo have recruited nurses from the Philippines. Mehiläinen recently began its own recruitment drive in the country.

So far, some 400 nurses have arrived from the Philippines and a further 100 will soon land to shore up staff shortages.

Fat fees to staffing agencies

Some Filipino nurses in Finland have spoken out about hefty fees they were forced to pay local staffing agencies to secure jobs in Finland, pointing out that recruitment is big business in the Philippines.

Finnish staffing firm Silkkitie (‘Silk road’) sends Filipino nurses to both Finland and Sweden. Staffing agency Opteam, now a part of Barona, was previously the main recruiter of nurses from the Philippines.

“Neither Silkkitie nor our local partner Topmake demand recruitment fees, said Arto Haimakainen, managing director of Silkkitie.

Attendo Finland’s spokesperson, Ilona Sammaljärvi, also told Yle their company was unaware of any recruitment payments.

Healthcare sector trade unions Tehy and Super have meanwhile sounded the alarm that Filipino nurses in Finland spend years working below their skill level at service homes for the elderly. Sometimes they are paid less than their Finnish counterparts.

The Finnish Union of Practical Nurses, Super, is preparing to take a case to court involving two Filipino nurses working at health care provider Attendo. They were paid as care assistants despite holding Finnish practical nursing degrees.

"These nurses work in the Lahti area and we’re taking the case to court," said Jukka Parkkinen of Super.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment used to monitor private companies’ recruitment of overseas staff, but that role ended ten years ago.

"Finland needs new laws regarding this type of monitoring as we’re going to need more and more migrant labour,” explained Olli Sorainen, senior ministerial adviser at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.

The Ministries of Education and Social Affairs and Health declined Yle’s request to comment on certification challenges Filipino nurses face when seeking to have their qualifications recognised in Finland.

Recruitment nightmare

Emmer Benito and his nurse girlfriend, both from the Philippines, told Yle they were misled by a small company in Helsinki to which they paid an 8,000-euro recruitment fee. The firm promised them jobs as home care assistants with salaries of 1,800 euros, but the couple was given cleaning work upon arrival, earning them 200 to 300 euros a month.

"We were tricked and were so cash-strapped we could only afford to eat once per day," Benito told Yle. "I knew the recruitment fee was illegal but we were forced to take our chances -- even if it cost us -- as we have a very hard time supporting ourselves in the Philippines."

Like many other Filipinos working overseas, the couple had planned to send money back home to their families, but that proved impossible.

With the help of the Filipino community in Helsinki, Benito contacted the police as well as care sector trade union Tehy. In 2017 a court convicted the couple’s previous employer on a number of labour crimes.

Today Benito works for home nursing company Koti-Medi in the capital area.

“I’m finally doing the work I aspired to do when first arriving in Finland, and I’m very happy about it.”

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