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Thailand lets berry pickers head to Finland in mid-season

Berry firms welcomed the move as better late than never, since the season is already well underway.

Thai-poimijat keräävät mustikkaa Luumäellä 2018.
The Finnish berry industry is heavily reliant on foreign labour. Image: Mikko Savolainen / Yle

Thailand's government will allow migrant labourers to come to Finland and Sweden to pick berries this summer after all, with strict guidelines for employers and workers.

The Thai Ministry of Labour made the announcement on Saturday.

The Finnish berry industry is heavily reliant on foreign labour, but until now Thailand has forbidden its workers to travel here due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Finnish berry firms welcomed the move as better late than never, since the season is already well underway.

The Finnish Foreign Ministry says that workers will likely be allowed to apply for visas starting on Wednesday.

Ministry officials declined to speculate as to when the first pickers will arrive, or as to what kinds of conditions Finnish companies will have to meet.

The Finnish government decided on 8 July that wild berry harvesters would be allowed into the country if invited by a domestic firm. This was expected to lead to 3,000 Thai workers arriving for the rest of the summer season.

Finland waived travel restrictions to and from Thailand on 13 July, but until now Thai officials refused to allow the farm workers to fly to Finland.

According to the daily Helsingin Sanomat, Finnish companies will have to set up contingency accounts to cover pickers' health care costs in case they fall ill with Covid-19, and ensure that harvesters are paid at least 3,000 euros each after expenses.

Pickers will have to undergo coronavirus tests on departure and return, and will have to quarantine for 14 days on return.

Cloudberry harvest looks dim

Jukka Kristo, CEO of berry processing firm Polarica, expressed regret that visa applications will not be accepted before Wednesday, as every day counts now in peak season.

Kristo said that the profits from the cloudberry harvest, which is currently underway, will be negligible this year. The tart orange berries, which are related to raspberries, grow mostly in the wetlands of northern and eastern Finland.

He told Yle there is still hope for the blueberry (bilberry) and lingonberry harvests, though.

"At least this is better than if we hadn't gotten any pickers into the country," Kristo said.

While awaiting the arrival of Thai pickers, Finnish berry firms have launched a campaign urging private domestic individuals to sell them soft fruit, which they say has been productive so far.

"Cloudberry purchases from Finns have gone surprisingly well, so it's not such a big catastrophe as we expected," said Janne Naapanki, CEO of Arctic International in Sotkamo. He hopes to have several hundred Thai harvesters working soon.

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