Cleaning companies exploit migrants and asylum seekers. What else is new?

by , under Enrique Tessieri


Helsingin Sanomat published today an extensive investigative journalism story about the exploitation of foreigners by cleaning companies. Apart from Finnish (paywall), the full story is in English, Farsi, and Arabic as well.

The Helsingin Sanomat article writes about cleaning company employers’ false promises, exploitation and long working hours, underpayment of wages, human trafficking, threats, and blackmail, These sad facts are nothing new about how some cleaning companies operate in Finland.

Even so, it is a good matter that Finland’s largest daily by circulation writes about how greedy companies exploit the country’s most vulnerable groups.

Politics is another factor that distorts and undermines any meaningful steps to tackle exploitation in the Finnish labor market.

The Perussuomalaiset (PS)*, a party that bases its popularity on anti-immigrant racism and nativist nationalism, argues in parliament that foreign labor would drive down salaries.

Really? Do you mean that foreigners that enter the labor market are clamoring to be pad less than white Finns? Don’t they want to be paid the same salaries? Shouldn’t it be the job of the unions and society in general to protect the rights of migrant workers?

One factor that emerges from the exploitation stories of migrants and asylum seekers is that foreigners run many of these companies.

See also:

On SMC Cleaning’s webpage you will find only happy white people.

Here is a recent case of an asylum seeker who is a minor and worked at a car wash run by an Iraqi for 10 euros a week. Yes, you read correctly: 10 euros a week.

The owner had gone as far as to ask the minor’s father to pay him 30,000 euros so they could get a residence permit.

Migrant Tales understands that the police have detained the owner of the car wash.

Here is one case of an Iraqi who worked in 2018 for an ethnic food company in Helsinki:

Source: Migrant Tales
Source: Migrant Tales

Even if we know that migrants are exploited in the labor market, especially those who do not have residence permits, the question we should ask is why this continues to happen?

Zuzeeko Abeng, a Cameroonian who used to work for SMC Cleaning for four months in 2010, complained to his employer, the principal of the school he used to clean in Espoo, the Regional State Administrative Agencies (AVI) and even approached the media.

Zuzeeko, who graduated with a masters of law from Lund University in Sweden, approached the principle with the following letter:

My experience as a worker at SMC, over the past four months, suggests to me that there is untold exploitation (over-work and underpay) of workers in the company. Unless the authorities carry out work inspections and ensure that SMC workers enjoy all their fundamental human rights to decent work, I would remain worried about the welfare of my ex-colleagues at SMC.

For his troubles, the principal said he could not do anything since it was the city of Espoo that was in charge of the subcontracting. His advice? “Learn Finnish and get a better job,” said. “I gave me a book on studying Finnish grammar.”

According to Abeng, the owner of SMC Cleaning, Ibrahim al Beaaj, yelled and threatened him. He said that al Beaaj called him a trouble-maker and threatened to fire him.

Every door that Abeng knocked lead to a deadend.

The cases in the Helsingin Sanomat story are a repetition of Abeng’s experiences from about a decade ago. SMC Cleaning isn’t the only company that allegedly exploits its employees.

According to the daily, the following cleaning companies exploit migrants: Hokkinen Palvelut,  Dysnomia, DSN, Cashmatic, Staffig Group, Starstaff, Sanitex, and CMT Palvelut. 

Helsingin Sanomat writes: “Their practices are very similar. Often the workers are recruited and supervised by a man with an immigrant background. Customer- and paperwork, on the other hand, is typically handled by a Finnish-born person. The cleaners are almost all foreigners, to large extent asylum seekers, and one company might employ tens of them.”

In the aim to make Finland unattractive to future asylum seekers, politicians and policy-makers have lost total sight of how their policies weaken and impact the most vulnerable migrants.

Their message is clear: Exploitation of certain groups is ok Finland. We don’t care because we do not want them here in the first place.