Legal foreign labour force in Finland doubles in two years

Trade Union News, 24 May 2002

Helsinki (24.05.2002—Juhani Artto) Finland granted 15,000 residence and work permits to foreign workers in 2000. This figure may even double this year, as the construction and engineering industry has difficulties in finding appropriate employees on the domestic labour market, especially in southern Finland. In the summer months commercial farms also employ foreign labour, mainly for strawberry picking.

Most of these migrant workers are Russians and Estonians. Statistics for 2001 indicate that no other countries supplied more than a few hundred workers to the legal Finnish labour market.

Applications for residence and work permits are generally approved. Last year only 4.2 per cent of applications were turned down. The authorities are not allowed to grant residence and work permits when workers are already available on the domestic labour market.

This increased intake of foreign labour is a new phenomenon in Finland. It may have taken the public by surprise, as until now there have been no major outcries against the use of foreign labour, even though almost ten per cent of the domestic labour force remains unemployed and the sustained fall in general unemployment has recently slowed down. Several recent studies suggest that the rate of unemployment may even rise in the near future.

At the end of this decade the current proportion of foreign labour will probably look tiny. Over a period of some seven to eight years almost the whole of the baby-boom generation is due to retire, leaving employers increasingly in a situation where the only option is to replace Finnish employees with workers from abroad.

Broadly speaking, businesses and other work-related organisations remain rather inexperienced in meeting the demands of a multicultural labour force. Several trade unions have recently awakened to the new situation and have begun to publish materials in Russian, Estonian and other languages, and to organise meetings for members of foreign origin. However, most of the work needed in this area has yet to be done.