Thai berry pickers at work in Valtimo, a now-defunct municipality in North Karelia, in July 2013. Inspections by occupational safety authorities indicate that shortcomings in the wild berry industry remain fairly common. (Kimmo Rauatmaa – Lehtikuva)


OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY inspections have revealed a laundry list of shortcomings at companies recruiting foreign workers to pick wild berries in Finland, reports YLE.

The Regional State Administrative Agency (AVI) for Northern Finland revealed to the public broadcasting that berry companies were issued altogether 75 notices of shortcomings during its 32 inspections.

Hanna-Kaisa Rajala, the director of occupational safety at AVI for Northern Finland, revealed that most of the notices were related to employee orientation, during which employees should learn about their statutory rights and obligations as seasonal workers.

Occupational safety officials, she told, issued altogether 26 notices of orientation shortcomings. Another 12 notices were issued about both insufficient berry-picking gear and equipment and failures to make sure the contact information of authorities is readily available to the seasonal workers.

Some workers had only been provided a picker but not a bucket or a similar container for the berries by their employer. The contact details of authorities, meanwhile, may have included wrong phone numbers and been available only in Finnish.

The responsibilities of occupational safety inspectors do not extend to the accommodation facilities provided to pickers, for example, reminded YLE.

The inspections were carried out two years after the adoption of a law that seeks to protect the rights of seasonal workers picking berries in Finland. Occupational safety authorities monitored the industry based on the law also last year, encountering difficulties due to, among others, reservations about authorities.

“We noticed already during the previous picking season that the threshold for berry pickers to talk to authorities is fairly high,” told Rajala.

Authorities have sought to tackle the issue by distributing a brochure in and translating other documents to Thai.

“[The brochure] states in slightly caricaturist fashion, ‘Hey, I’m an inspector and you can talk to me also about confidential issues’,” she revealed.

Rajala declined to estimate whether the two-year-old law has resulted in an improvement in the working conditions of berry pickers. “Surveillance is completely new for occupational safety authorities, and we’ve only done it for two picking seasons,” she explained.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT