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MOT: Police investigate the long days and low pay of undocumented hairdressers

There is also evidence that foreign workers are being exploited in the construction, restaurant and forestry industries.

Anonyymi haastateltava "Rashid"
MOT interviewed Rashid (name changed) who worked for more than three months in a car wash, receiving a total salary of only 400 euros. Image: Riikka Kurki / Yle

A report by Yle’s investigative journalism unit MOT has revealed how undocumented workers, that is those living and working in Finland without a residence permit, are being exploited by employers in a number of different industries.

The latest area to come under scrutiny are hairdressing salons, where police suspect immigrant workers and asylum seekers are being exploited in order to keep prices low.

The problem is not confined to just the hairdressing industry, but is part of a wider phenomenon in which asylum seekers and other foreign workers work long hours for low pay in the Finnish labour market, with evidence of exploitative practice occurring on construction sites, in restaurants and in the forestry industry.

Examples of the complaints made by the workers include receiving paltry pay packets, despite working hours that stretch from morning to night.

Full time work for 100 euros per month

As part of their own investigation, MOT interviewed four undocumented workers, all originally from Iraq, who reported their experiences of work-related exploitation in Finland.

Asha* arrived in Finland as an asylum seeker from Iraq in 2015. Initially she found it very difficult to find a job but eventually secured employment at a hairdressing salon which she found via an announcement posted on Facebook.

“I had already worked as a hairdresser in Iraq, where I only had female clients, but now the boss made me cut men's hair as well,” Asha said.

The manager of the salon promised Asha that they would sign an employment contract so she could apply for a work-related residence permit. However, the contract of employment was subsequently found to be false and Asha says she was never paid the salary promised, instead receiving only 100 euros per month despite working full time hours.

She was not permitted to discuss her work situation with anyone outside of the workplace.

"I did not understand anything about the papers. I tried to ask how wages and salaries and rent and other things worked, but I did not get an answer. I collapsed when I realised that the man had lied to me," Asha recalled.

Eventually, during a trip to Helsinki, Asha described her ordeal to an Arabic worker at the Deaconess Institute, and she was advised to make a formal complaint.

"I was told that the incident appeared to be human trafficking, and that it should be reported to the police," Asha said.

Failed asylum seekers left in a vulnerable position

Asha was left open to exploitation after receiving two negative asylum decisions, and MOT's investigation revealed that there are many other immigrant workers in similar situations.

Estimates of the number of undocumented workers in Finland range from between 3,000 to 5,000, a figure which has increased significantly since 2015, when about 32,000 asylum seekers arrived in Finland.

Many of them have been refused asylum but do not wish to return to their country of origin, leaving them pushed to the margins of society.

Rashid*, also a failed Iraqi asylum seeker, does not have his own home, bank account or a tax card, but he was still able to obtain a job at a car washing facility.

According to his work contract, Rashid's duties at the car wash included washing, waxing, retreading and tyre work, with a salary of 10.50 euros per hour.

However, Rashid told MOT that despite working six days a week from 9am to 7pm over the course of three months, he received a total salary of just over 400 euros for the entire period. If the salary had been paid in accordance with the employment contract, the sum would have been thousands of euros more.

When Rashid said he would report the situation to the police, he said his manager told him that the police would not believe the word of an undocumented worker.

*Aliases were used to protect the identity of the interviewees.

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