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Tuesday's papers: Workplace exploitation, tragedy behind foster care placements, Finland's "rocket man"

Asylum seekers in a multi-tiered labour market, social problems driving foster care, a Helsinki resident's moon mission.

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An enterprising Helsinki resident is offering "a piece of heaven" and selling "rocket briefs" to finance his trip to the moon. Image: Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP

Finland’s multi-tiered labour market is under the microscope in a Lännen Media feature highlighted by southwest Finland-based Turun Sanomat. The paper focuses on the experiences of highly-educated Qasem, who was granted asylum in Finland and found work with a cleaning firm in the capital area. However he soon noticed that he was being exploited.

"On paper I had an eight-hour work day. In reality, the eight hours were spread out throughout the day so that my first shift began early in the morning and the last late at night. Breaks were spent moving from one workplace to another," Qasem said, explaining how an eight-hour day stretched far longer.

Katja-Pia Jenu, an occupational health and safety inspector with the southern Finland regional administrative authority said that Finland’s labour market has been divided into a three- or even four-tiered system in which people waiting for asylum decisions or asylum seekers who’ve already received residence permits occupy the third tier.

"It seems like a fourth layer is forming that is related to undocumented individuals and human trafficking," she conjectured.

On-the-job exploitation often appears to be above board. In such cases, employers may record fewer hours than employees actually work or they may not pay for overtime. In the most extreme cases, employers may even restrict their workers’ movements outside of the workplace.

Victim support specialist Saara Pihlaja said that in other cases, employees work on a legal basis but employers control their bank accounts. However the paper pointed out that not all cases of workplace abuse are intentional, as some migrant business owners may not be familiar with all their responsibilities as employers.

Asylum seekers have the right to work in Finland once they have been in the country for three or six months, depending on whether or not they have valid travel documents. The number of work-based residence permits granted to people who arrived in Finland as asylum seekers has increased, according to data from the Finnish Immigration Service Migri. In 2015, 58 such permits were issued, compared to 168 in 2016. The number has remained steady at just over 100 since then.

Mental health problems, substance abuse, joblessness behind foster care

Tampere-based daily Aamulehti examined recently-released data on the number of children placed in emergency foster care (€) and found instances of alcohol and drug use as well as joblessness in affected families.

Tarja Heino, research professor with the National Institute for Health and Welfare THL, led the team that revealed the increase in urgent placements. She told AL that many of the children placed in foster homes had problems at school, including truancy and learning difficulties. Mental health problems were also evident among some children and in the home.

A 2016 analysis of 410 children from 368 families in the foster care system found that three out of four children had health issues, while two-thirds had mental health problems. One-third of children in middle school and the majority of teens were experiencing problems at school, and 40 percent of children displayed violence while 37 percent exhibited other behavioural problems.

The research further showed that in a quarter of cases, parents’ alcohol consumption affected their children’s circumstances. One-fifth of parents admitted to using other narcotic substances. Additionally, a quarter of 13-year-olds were heavy alcohol users and almost as many were believed to users of narcotics.

Nearly all of the parents in the study group said they were worn out and 75 percent could not provide for their families. The parents of children placed in foster care were more often jobless than the rest of society, a problem that was particularly acute among families with young children.

According to AL in the Tampere region, statistics show that since 2000 the number of children in care has increased 90 percent and more than 50 percent nationwide. Overall emergency placements in foster care are four and a half times more frequent than 18 years ago.

Finland’s rocket man offering "a piece of heaven"

In its city pages, largest-circulation daily Helsingin Sanomat introduces readers to 52-year-old Vesa Heilala – a Helsinki resident living the dream of travelling to the moon. The paper writes that Heilala pooled his savings, borrowed more than 100,000 euros from the bank, and in 2010, he purchased a 200,000-dollar ticket to the moon on businessman Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic commercial space shuttle.

Heilala’s long-anticipated interstellar trip has yet to materialise, however. Branson’s space tourism project suffered a major setback in 2014 when the Virgin SpaceShipTwo disintegrated during a test flight, killing one of the pilots on board.

Undaunted, Heilala is making use of his time trying to raise the money needed to repay the loan for his space trip. He sold his Audi A-8 and purchased a used Fiat for 900 euros, the interior of which he has been pimping to look like a spacecraft. He spent another 900 euros on a special registration plate for the vehicle: KUU-1 (MOON-1).

Among the many special features the vehicle boasts, HS reports that one of the most striking is an advertisement for men’s underwear. Heilala has managed to productise his space dream and finance the project by selling so-called "rocket briefs".

Not shy of venturing into the unknown or double-entendre territory, Heilala’s marketing tag line for the briefs is, "Buy a piece of heaven". He has sold 150 items so far.

"I still need to sell 15,000 to repay my space trip loan," the enterprising dreamer calculated.

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