The EU allows the free movement of labour, but a problem develops if an immigrant is willing to work for much less than a native.
THE last couple of years have seen an influx of foreign construction workers in Finland who were paid salaries far below domestic standards. Under intense public pressure officials quickly acted, and the issue disappeared from the headlines. Yet if the situation in other EU countries is any indication of Finland’s future, the problem is far from being fixed.
Throughout the past two years a number of cases regarding the exploitation of foreign workers have been documented. The most prolific offender was the construction industry. A notorious incident was at the Olkiluoto 3 nuclear power plant, where YLE discovered some Polish workers were paid less than two euros per hour.
In the construction sector, the situation develops through the complex nature of projects, where a plethora of contractors and subcontractors may develop. Assignments are often awarded to the lowest bidder, who might keep costs low by bringing in workers from low-wage countries.
“Wage dumping” comes from the German Lohndumping and generally refers to offering wages much lower than is normal in an industry, often to foreign workers brought in specifically for the job.
“Social dumping,” as defined by the EU, is when a low-wage country exports goods to a high-wage country, hence hurting society and labour standards.
Yet it occurs in other industries as well, and sometimes foreign workers already resident in a country are exploited. Typically, foreign workers are offered wages and benefits that are far below Finnish standards. Sometimes workers are simply paid in cash, and the transaction is clearly in the black market and clearly illegal. A more common, and legal, method is for workers to be classified as “self-employed” or as “freelancers” and paid at rates that are a tiny fraction of that stipulated in collective bargaining agreements. Foreigners typically accept such low wages because of their poverty, lack of awareness of their own rights, or isolation.
Outrage develops because this is believed to unfairly exploit the foreign workers as well as cheat native Finnish labourers of jobs. To compete against the cheaper labour, native Finns might feel it necessary to accept lower wages, too, just so they have some work.
The practice is thought to be widespread: the Confederation of Finnish Construction Industries says that about 30 per cent of construction workers are foreigners, and Jouni Ruotsalainen of the Turku branch of the Finnish Construction Trade Union has told YLE that he guesses 70 per cent of the foreign workers labour in the grey economy, off the official books.
DAVID J. CORD
LEHTIKUVA / ANTTI AIMO-KOIVISTO / JUSSI NUKARI
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