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The occupational safety and health authority is set to supervise wild berry picking operations organized by berry companies during the upcoming picking season. This supervision comes in response to the mixed employment statuses of pickers, some of whom are in employment relationships while others operate as independent pickers.

In March 2024, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs suspended the processing of visa applications for berry pickers from Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar

due to serious suspected offenses in the berry sector. Consequently, during the 2024 harvest, berry companies can only recruit pickers from these countries under employment contracts, requiring an employee's residence permit. However, berry picking under the Berry Act remains permissible for those with other residence rights in Finland or for pickers invited from countries not mentioned above.

Enforcement of the Berry Act and Employment Standards

The occupational safety and health authority, in collaboration with other authorities, will supervise berry picking activities across Finland. During inspections, authorities will determine the applicable legislation. For pickers in an employment relationship, inspectors will ensure compliance with:

  • Minimum wage, bonuses, and working hours as per the collective agreement for rural industries
  • Provision of shift schedules according to the collective agreement
  • Non-discrimination policies
  • Arranged occupational healthcare
  • Accident insurance coverage
  • Verification of foreign employees' right to work

For independent pickers operating under the Berry Act, the inspectors will check that the berry companies:

  • Are deemed reliable by the TE Office
  • Have notified the occupational safety and health authority about the pickers' base
  • Informed pickers of the purchase prices and any costs charged to them
  • Do not set picking schedules or restrict pickers' rights to sell berries to others
  • Provided information on pickers' rights, obligations, and advisory services
  • Maintain contact information for officials available to pickers

The Berry Act does not stipulate minimum earnings or income for pickers not in employment relationships, hence inspectors cannot supervise these aspects.

Challenges in Enforcement

"Inspections are conducted at picker bases during the evenings. A single base can host over a hundred pickers, and inspectors can only interview a fraction with the help of interpreters. This makes it challenging to investigate the legal relationships between berry companies and different pickers," explains Niko Huru, an inspector from the Regional State Administrative Agency for Northern Finland's Occupational Safety and Health Division.

Information for Pickers in Multiple Languages

During inspections, guides published by the occupational safety and health authority will be distributed to both employees in employment relationships and independent pickers under the Berry Act. The guide "Wild Berry Picker’s Rights" is available in Thai and English, with Ukrainian and Russian versions to be released during this picking period. Additionally, the guide "As a Foreign Employee in Finland" is available in 18 languages, including Thai.

These efforts aim to ensure that all berry pickers are well-informed of their rights and obligations, enhancing their protection during the berry picking season.

HT

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