A working group set up by Minister of Employment Tuula Haatainen (SDP) in March is proposing that punitive fines be issued to employers in Finland found to be exploiting foreign workers.
According to the working group, the exploitation of foreign labour is not a marginal phenomenon in the country and indifference to the problem must be stopped.
Fines can be imposed on an employer who hires foreign workers lacking residence and work permits. But, at present, unless there is a clear violation of the law, action by the authorities to address issues such as excessively long hours and low pay is limited to issuing guidelines on correct labour practices. In most cases, employers face no financial risk by engaging in the exploitation of foreign workers, the group's report says.
While some seriously abusive cases do get reported to the police by labour authorities, the criteria needed for a full investigation of employment malpractice are often not met.
Indifference has kept the risk low
The authorities in Finland have been aware of exploitive practices, but lack effective tools to directly deal with abuses in most cases
The general public became more aware of the issue earlier this summer when the Helsinki daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reported on the widespread exploitation of foreign workers in the cleaning industry. The paper has also published reports highlighting the exploitation of employees in some ethnic restaurants.
According to the employment ministry working group, many public authorities do not see the exploitation of foreign labour as a major problem and many companies do not perceive it as one, even though it distorts competition. The group states that this indifference must come to an end.
"The risk of getting caught has traditionally been low because the action may not be visible to the outside world, and the victim is a foreigner who often to some extent accepts the situation or at least submits to it," the working group notes in its report.
Abusive practices are not limited to the cleaning and restaurant industries, but have also been found in the construction sector, seasonal agricultural work and the IT sector, among others.
Currently, pricing is the key criterion in public procurement. The employment ministry working group is now proposing that Finland's public procurement system be modified to also obligate the purchaser to more thoroughly vet the employment practices of service providers.
The working group is furthermore proposing that efforts to end the exploitation of foreign labour be added to the official performance targets of key authorities.
Among the measures being considered to further safeguard the position of the victims of labour exploitation is the introduction of the right to continue to reside and work in the same or another field within the framework without reapplying for a residence permit.
Workers coming into the country from abroad are often too dependent solely on information from employers or job brokers about Finnish working life and their rights.
The working group report calls for upgraded information services to be provided by Finnish missions when issuing a visa or residence permit.
Employees should also be made aware of who they can contact if they have problems with their employer. Since some foreign workers are wary of the authorities, civic organisations can play a larger part in aiding the victims of exploitation, the group's report says.