A recent report by E2 Research reveals that Ukrainian seasonal workers in Finland are motivated by financial stability and a desire to support their home country, particularly in light of the ongoing war. The study sheds light on the experiences of Ukrainian workers and the crisis resilience of the farm owners who employ them, offering valuable insights into the motivations and challenges faced by both groups. Conducted between December 2022 and February 2023, the research involved 31 qualitative interviews conducted in Ukrainian, Russian, and Finnish.
The primary incentive for Ukrainian workers to engage in seasonal work in Finland is the potential for higher earnings. Comparing their experiences in Poland, where wages were considerably lower, one worker explains that they learned from fellow seasonal workers about the better pay and working conditions in Finland. Seasonal work in Finland provides wages that far exceed those available in Ukraine, attracting individuals from various professions, including doctors and lawyers, although the majority appear to have lower levels of education.
However, the motivation for Ukrainian workers extends beyond personal financial improvement. The ongoing war in Ukraine has deepened their commitment to seasonal work, with many aiming to contribute financially to the Ukrainian army and the country's reconstruction efforts. One worker describes the impact of the war on their decision to seek seasonal employment: shocked by the cruelty of the conflict, they sought both financial security and a safe haven while also supporting the Ukrainian armed forces.
Coincidence and the experiences of others also play a role in the decision-making process of Ukrainian workers. Recommendations from relatives, friends, and job intermediaries who provide information and facilitate connections with Finnish farms influence their choice to come to Finland. These personal networks and recommendations serve as a bridge between Ukrainian workers and farm owners.
The war has fostered closer relationships between farm owners and seasonal workers. Farm owners, aware of the challenging circumstances in Ukraine, have taken proactive measures to reach out to seasonal workers and offer them accommodation even before the start of the harvest season. This not only provides safety and security for the workers but also strengthens the bond between the two groups. In some cases, the workers have requested assistance for their relatives or families to seek refuge on the farms, further highlighting the solidarity and support within the Ukrainian community.
While the majority of interactions between farm owners and seasonal workers have been positive, some Ukrainian workers expressed dissatisfaction with their treatment on the farms. Stress experienced by entrepreneurs, such as concerns about the harvest or the spread of disease during the pandemic, was identified as a contributing factor. Despite these challenges, the overall relationship between farm owners and seasonal workers remains strong, driven by shared goals and mutual support.
The use of job intermediaries or brokers poses challenges for Ukrainian workers. Many workers initially rely on these intermediaries to secure employment, particularly during their first year in Finland. However, the high costs associated with their services, coupled with uncertainties and potential fraud, have raised concerns among seasonal workers. As workers establish direct connections with farms and improve their language skills, the need for intermediaries diminishes.
Language skills play a crucial role in the adaptation and integration of Ukrainian workers in Finland. While learning Finnish and English is considered important, there are tasks that can be managed with limited language skills, aided by translation apps on smartphones. The workers hope that their future Finnish employers will recognize their value as skilled workers, even if their language proficiency is not yet fluent.
In terms of adaptation and integration, the education of their children and their participation in activities and interactions with Finnish children have been instrumental for Ukrainian workers and refugees. Schools play a crucial role in providing language education and facilitating social connections for the children. While Ukrainian workers tend to form friendships primarily within their own community, those with a longer work history in Finland have established more connections with Finns.
The study also highlights the resilience of farm owners in managing crises. Preparation, change management, self-care, fostering a sense of community among workers, and prioritizing tasks have been key strategies employed by farm owners to cope with challenges. The experiences of seasonal workers and farm entrepreneurs during crises provide valuable insights that can inform resilience-building efforts even in non-emergency situations.
The report from E2 Research underscores the complex motivations and experiences of Ukrainian seasonal workers in Finland. The desire for economic stability and the urge to support their homeland in times of war drive these workers, while farm owners and the wider community provide crucial support and opportunities for integration. As Finland continues to benefit from the contributions of Ukrainian seasonal workers, understanding their motivations and experiences can lead to improved support systems and stronger bonds between these two communities.
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