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Union: Low wages, unpaid overtime found at Olympic Stadium renovation project

Thirteen subcontractors were found to have underpaid workers, according to the construction trade union.

ilmakuva, Olympiastadion remontissa 15.9.2017
Since it was built in 1938, the Olympic Stadium has been one of Helsinki's best-known landmarks. Image: Retu Liikanen / Yle

More than 300 workers involved in renovating Helsinki's Olympic Stadium have been working under conditions which are not compliant with collective agreements, according to the Finnish Construction Trade Union, Svenska Yle reported on Wednesday.

The union said it has been monitoring the renovation project for nearly the past two years and that it has seen payment shortcomings among 340 construction workers, employed by 13 different subcontractors.

The company in charge of the entire project is the Swedish firm Skanska.

"We have noticed that people have been paid according to the wrong wage brackets. Overtime and travel reimbursements have not been paid," the union's regional ombudsman, Johanna Elonen, said.

The construction union also suspects that illegal sackings of workers have taken place, and that the affected workers are mostly from eastern European countries and worked for subcontractors.

Workers unaware about collective agreements

"Most of the employees come from eastern Europe and do not know about Finnish employment contracts. It has resulted in experienced workers taking the lowest hourly wages according to collective agreements - which is 10 euros an hour - instead of the nearly 15 euros per hour that goes to experienced professionals," Elonen explained.

However, Elonen said she could not reveal whether the guilty subcontractor firms were based in Finland or from abroad.

"There is a collective agreement in the construction industry and this applies to all companies, regardless of where the firm is based," Elonen said.

One firm that was caught underpaying workers was ordered to fork out 80,000 euros to 50 employees.

"For individual employees, the amounts they have lost could amount to hundred or maybe thousands of euros, depending on how long they have been working. And because [the practice] has involved many employees, this has meant a lot of money for the subcontractors," she said, explaining that firms that break the rules can save a good deal of money - if they aren't caught.

"It's a big construction site. If each working hour is a few euros cheaper, the honest companies have a more difficult time competing," Elonen said.

Skanska assisted union

The estimated final cost of the Olympic Stadium renovation stands at about 261 million euros, according to Jukka Ala-Outinen, a Skanska project manager in charge of the project.

"We have helped the construction trade union with their investigation and our cooperation has worked well. These cases have been investigated," Ala-Outinen said.

However, he said that he only is aware of which companies had shortcomings, not the number of employees who have been affected.

"That's why I have a hard time commenting on whether it is a question of a large or small sum," Ala-Outinen said.

A total of around 4,600 construction workers have helped out at the site, since the renovation project began more than three years ago, before shutting down at the end of 2015.

Ala-Outinen said Skanska checked out subcontractors' financial situations before signing agreements with them, saying that the firm examined the firms' economic situations, whether they are up to date on their taxes and pension payments.

"We [also] try to ensure that the subcontractor can pay according to collective agreements," he said.

"But we cannot monitor how subcontractors pay [employees]. We have neither the opportunity nor even the right to do it," Ala-Outinen said.

The Olympic Stadium renovation project is scheduled to be complete by next summer.

Originally opened in 1938, the venue hosted the 1952 Olympic Games. Its last major renovation was in the early 1990s.

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