Immigrants and their associations should speak out more against exploitation

by , under Enrique

In the struggle that immigrants and members of the visible minority community in Finland, it’s important that we have a voice and speak out against exploitation and attitudes that promote intolerance. 

Kuvankaappaus 2013-12-3 kello 8.43.13
Read full story (in Finnish) here.

Migrant Tales wrote recently about Abdi Osman, a naturalized Finn who came to this country fifteen years ago with 50 dollars in his pocket via Moscow from Somalia. According to Osman, social welfare should be scrapped and Finnish-language courses aren’t important.

His advice for success? Work, work and work.

While his recipe for success is no different from the simplistic extremist views of the Perussuomalaiset (PS) or Youth League of the National Coalition Party, it proves that immigrants can be just as tough against their own kind as the worst native.

In a rebuttal to Osman’s views published on Jyväskylä-based daily Keskisuomalainen, the chairman of Somaliland nuoret, Warda Ahmed, asked whether asylum seekers that the businessman helped to employ could be victims of exploitation.

“Asylum seekers can get permission to work from the Finnish Immigration Service (FIS) as they wait for years for their residence permit…They don’t get social security, language skills or understanding of [their] employee rights. Salaries are paid cash in hand, there are no retirement benefits paid and working conditions aren’t overseen by a union…” writes Somaliland nuoret association.

While it’s a welcome  news that immigrant associations in this country raise their voices against injustices, it’s hoped that more would follow Somaliland nuoret’s example. Immigrants and especially the associations that represent them should speak out more against exploitation.

If the exploitation is committed by an individual company or a fast-food chain is one matter, another serious issue is turning a blind eye to the problem since they “are immigrants” that should be thankful for getting a job that we’d never take in a million years. The difficulties in getting a work permit never mind a job in Finland for some opens the doors to exploitation, especially if the victim has poor language skills and little education.

But who is to blame? The employer, FIS or the victim?

In the 1980s, when the then Aliens’ Office was a state within a state run by Eilä Kännö, Pakistani citizens were required to get pre-approval from the Finnish honorary consul of Pakistan, Aarne Roiha.

These Pakistanis were given  residence and work permits from the Aliens Office if they got approval or worked at one of Roiha’s three restaurants in Helsinki (Klippan, Ässäpata, Kaisaniemen ravintola).

A foreigner, who spoke on condition of anonymity and knew Roiha, told Migrant Tales that those Pakistanis that worked for the former honorary consul were underpaid, slept at the restaurants where they worked. “They were forced to come to work when they were sick and even beaten at work like being slapped in the face,” the person said.

There are unconfirmed reports that Roiha, who was forced to leave the country to Florida because of tax issues, used to entertain Kännö at his restaurants in Helsinki.

Strict laws, lack of regulation and greedy businessmen are a recipe for the exploitation of people who have no other choice but to be thankful for those that use them.

The reason why this happens in Finland and in so many countries is because it is highly profitable. Certainly the employee may have a different opinion about the whole matter.

  1. JusticeDemon

    Well, you read it here first, and this follow-up is no surprise.

    The otherwise welcome response from Warda Ahmed is inaccurate on a couple of points:

    1) “Asylum seekers can get permission to work from the Finnish Immigration Service (FIS) as they wait for years for their residence permit” Turvapaikanhakijat saavat maahanmuuttoviraston luvalla tehdä töitä odottaessaan oleskelulupaa…

    Not so.

    Subsection 2 of section 81 of the Aliens Act is quite clear on this point: Asylum seekers with valid identity documents may work legally after they have been in Finland for three months. Those without valid identity documents gain the right to work after six months.

    There is no need for permission from FIS.

    2) Salaries are paid cash in hand, there are no retirement benefits paid and working conditions aren’t overseen by a union Palkka maksetaan suoraan käteen, eläkettä ei kerry eikä työntekijän työoloja valvo liitto.

    This describes an illegal practice.

    Section 16 of the Employment Contracts Act requires an employer to have pressing reasons for paying cash wages. The employer must also provide a written pay statement and is subject to certain bookkeeping requirements in relation to any wages paid in cash.

    The Employment Pensions Act (no. 395 of 2006) applies to all paid work that is not governed by other special pension legislation.

    Trade unions may not discriminate against any category of employee in the industries that they organise by refusing membership or by failing to investigate employment-related grievances. Indeed trade unions have a specific and important interest in supervising the terms and conditions of employment of disadvantaged and vulnerable employees. The SAK trade union movement has even campaigned for the right to represent the interests of migrant workers in civil lawsuits without their consent and despite their express opposition to such representation (i.e. the right to treat migrant workers as legally incompetent civil litigants).

    The most I can say here is that as large and rather bureaucratic organisations, trade unions sometimes need a kick in the behind before they will go the extra mile to communicate with their immigrant minority members, but this provides a golden opportunity to Warda Ahmed’s organisation to step in and insist on proper service.