THE MINISTRY for Foreign Affairs on Thursday revealed the issuance of visas for wild berry pickers has been suspended indefinitely at the Finnish Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand.
The decision was made on grounds of numerous ambiguities related to wild-berry picking, including the extent of unreliable information in visa applications, risk of human trafficking, ongoing criminal investigation and possible revisions to the status of berry pickers.
The embassy was instructed to suspend the issuance of visas in November 2022.
“The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment has prepared a proposal to amend the seasonal workers decree so that a contractual employment relationship would be required for the picking of natural products,” reads the press release from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
“The public consultation on the proposal has just ended, and the plan is to have the amendment in force in time before the start of the harvest season. The amendment would mean that all pickers arriving in Finland would be in a seasonal worker’s contractual employment relationship with their employers.”
The Arctic Flavours Association, the national advocacy for wild berry, herb, mushroom and special forest products, has expressed its opposition to re-defining the pickers as employees rather than self-employed light entrepreneurs.
It warned yesterday that the visa suspension could have serious repercussions for the industry.
“We’ll be in trouble then. The likely outcome is that several companies will go under,” Birgitta Partanen, the executive director at the Arctic Flavours Association, estimated in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat.
“Although we’ve tried to develop domestic picking in the past couple of years and managed to increase it, there’s no way it can be developed to a level that would satisfy the current need for raw materials,” she added. “Human trafficking mustn’t be allowed in any circumstances, and also we condemn it firmly. It’s a negative for the entire natural products industry in Finland.”
Partanen stated that the objective of the suspension is good and commendable but the measure itself should be re-considered. She called for more through preparation and assessment of the impacts.
“The issue should be returned to the agenda and the overall impacts should be evaluated. It’ll have enormous regional effects if things get to the point that we can’t get pickers,” she commented to the newspaper.
Helsingin Sanomat wrote that Thai have accounted for 85–90 per cent of berry pickers in Finland. Finnish companies are expected to recruit around 3,000 pickers from the country this year, 1,000 fewer than in 2022.
While Partanen believes Finns could satisfy a share of the labour need, it would require that picker networks are developed for a couple of years.
“Finns re-discovered nature during the coronavirus pandemic. Berry picking has increased significantly, but the sales are taking place mostly on [online auction] Tori.fi and Facebook – directly from pickers to consumers,” she told Helsingin Sanomat.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT