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The share of foreign workers in Finland's construction sector has seen a notable increase in recent years, according to a recent labor survey conducted by the Confederation of Finnish Construction Industries (RT). On average, foreign labor accounts for about 30% of the workforce on construction sites across Finland, an increase from the previous survey conducted in 2019. However, the current economic downturn has led to a decrease in work available for both Finnish and foreign workers in the sector.

In particular, the Uusimaa region, which includes the capital Helsinki, has experienced a significant rise in the proportion of foreign workers, now at 37% compared to previously one-third. This contrast is stark compared to other regions and sectors within construction, where the presence of foreign labor is considerably less.

The survey indicates that in infrastructure construction and the construction materials industry, the share of foreign workers is below 15%. Most foreign workers in the construction materials industry are employed through temporary staffing agencies, and their numbers are expected to grow in the coming years.

Comprehensive data from the Finnish Tax Administration, which requires the main contractor of a construction site to report all workers regardless of their employment status or employer, shows that foreign labor consistently made up around 20% of the workforce throughout last year. This figure represents an average across the country and includes workers in building construction, infrastructure construction, and specialized construction activities.

Ville Wartiovaara, a legal expert at RT, notes that the economic challenges in construction have affected domestic and foreign workers equally. "The number of reported workers decreased significantly towards the end of the year. However, the proportion of foreign workers in the total workforce did not see a significant change throughout the year," Wartiovaara explains.

Estonians make up the largest group of foreign workers, accounting for about 40%, followed by Ukrainians, Russians, Latvians, Poles, Romanians, and Uzbeks.

The employment situation in the construction sector has rapidly deteriorated since last summer, with employment having peaked at 200,000 in recent years. The sector is now facing a significant downturn, with employment levels threatened to drop to around 160,000.

The unemployment rate in construction has already increased significantly, with 22% of members of the open unemployment fund of the Construction Union receiving unemployment benefits in January.

Wartiovaara warns of the long-term implications: "Foreign workers have returned to their home countries, and Finns have been left unemployed. Some may not return to construction work, leading to a future shortage of professionals and a bottleneck for growth. According to forecasts by the Skills Anticipation Forum, the real estate and construction sector will see 130,000–140,000 new job openings between 2020 and 2040, indicating a substantial future demand."

The RT labor survey provides insights into the overall labor situation of its member companies in the construction industry, highlighting the proportion of domestic and foreign labor. The latest survey, covering responses from 133 construction companies with a total workforce of 21,500 as of November 30, 2023, offers a detailed look at the national and Uusimaa region's situation, with other regional results being indicative.

HT

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