What you are never told and should know about working life in Finland

by , under Enrique Tessieri

There are many good tips migrants can get in Finland on how to land a job, write a convincing CV, and give near-perfect answers to a prospective employer at a job interview. Despite the latter, one crucial matter needs to be included: Learning and protecting your rights after you are hired.

Because it is difficult to find online cases of abuse and unfair practices by employers, the victim may face several obstacles. The post below by the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) highlights the problem of employer abuse, but there is no advice on what you should do and whom you should turn to for help.

Khalid, who prefers to remain anonymous because he fears problems with his past employer, said that the system whereby asylum seekers must get work to get a residence permit opens them up to abuse.

“I know of many cases where a foreigner is abused and taken advantage of by the employer,” he said. “It is easy for the employer to force the employee to accept abuse and work in black, and even threaten him or her with deportation.”

Khalid is, however, adamant: “When you feel something is wrong, go to the authorities and ask for legal advice. This is your right, and I don’t wish anyone to suffer my terrifying experiences in the Finnish labor market.”

He said the information you can get from unions like SAK is very helpful when approaching the police about your case. Even so, there is so much that such organizations can do to fix your problem at work.

The Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) below tells you how to identify exploitation by the employer but not what to do if you are a victim of such abuse.

Source: Finnish Immigration Service

Khalid has not yet made a police report about the abuse he suffered at a Helsinki company that subcontracts work from the state-owned Posti Corporation.

First employers

Like many others, the young Iraqi came to Finland in 2015 when he was 18. His work history defies all the hostie urban tales by far-right anti-immigration groups like the Perussuomalaiset*, claiming such people came here only to live off social welfare. For several years, Khalid was an undocumented migrant since he had a deportation order in 2017 but preferred to stay. 

“I came in 2015 but started to work in 2018 for a company that fixed old windows and did cleaning work,” he said. “I was fortunate because the company that hired me did not exploit me. They paid me fairly, got paid for overtime and even holiday pay.”

Khalid’s first job in Finland was fixing old windows. Source: Google

The young man admits being surprised that his first employer treated him fairly. He had heard of many cases where their employers abused and short-changed foreigners.

“I was forced to quit my first job because I did not have a work permit,” he said. “I could not apply for a work permit because I did not have a passport. I was unemployed, but only for a short time.”

His second employer was Posti Corporation. He was paid 850 euros a month for distributing newspapers during the wee hours. From Posti Corporation, he started to do construction cleaning work but had to quit that job because Migri would not grant him a work permit. 

Besides delivering mail, Khalid sorted mail for long hours, up to 18 hours daily. Source: Google

Without work

Khalid said he could not work for 14 months and survived thanks to handouts from NGOs at Helsinki’s Kalasatama.

As an undocumented migrant, he shared a flat in Helsinki with a roommate. However, disagreements emerged, and this forced him to sleep outdoors.

“I slept many days at Kamppi [Shopping Center], where the people wait for long-distance  buses,” he continued. “I have slept in containers for many weeks.”

Besides being chased after by security guards and the police, Khalid got three deportation orders between 2017 and 2019. Thanks to a helpful and kind social worker, Migri reversed Khalid’s deportation order and sent him to the asylum reception center in Vantaa.

The worst job

In October 2020, Khalid’s life appeared to improve after a Posti Corporation subcontractor hired him. At the time, he had a passport and applied for a residence and work permit.

“For over two years until 2022, I worked in Espoo, Vantaa, and Helsinki delivering and sorting mail,” he said. “The hours I put in were long, and sometimes I worked as many as 18 hours a day and slept only four hours. Everything was fine initially, but matters worsened when I got my work permit in December 2021.”

One of the matters that Khalid noticed at work was missing hours on his pay slip. When he inquired about this, the employer said he would sort it out and pay him next month. This never happened

“After I got my residence permit in 2021, matters started to go wrong,” he said. “I have no idea why. In a pay slip, there would be over 20 hours missing out of 360 to 380 hours I put in monthly. I never got paid for overtime.”

Another matter that Khalid noticed was that he’d get paid less for hourly wages than previously agreed.

“I was supposed to be paid 14 euros an hour according to [the] SAK [union],” he continued. “They paid me 10 euros instead, later 12 euros, and then back to 10 euros an hour. I never got any vacation pay, either.”

SAK is the biggest union in Finland.

Khalid said that the employer arbitrarily changed his working hours from full-time to part-time and never explained why. There was always work for him, but the employer sometimes told him not to come to work because there was none on that day.  He would not get paid on such days. 

When asked how much money the employer had shortchanged him, Khalid admits that he does not know. Even so, if Khalid wasn’t paid for three years of full vacation pay, no overtime, and fewer hours at work, he agrees that the sum must run “into the thousands of euros.”

Khalid admits that working such long hours tired him, and he occasionally forgot to ask his boss about his payment problems with the company.

Help! But from where? 

Khalid suffered abuse and exploitation at the hands of a greedy employer.

“Even if I asked for help, they’d point out that what my boss did is illegal but legally, they could not help me,” he said, admitting being in a rock and a hard place. 

Khalid is a unique case because he sought help and complained to the employer about being underpaid. For many migrants, this may be their first obstacle, and they prefer to remain quiet. 

The Iraqi has been in touch with Riku, a victim support organization, AVI, a lawyer who will no longer take his case, and several other entities like SAK.

“All of them, except for Riku, only offered advice but did not help me resolve the issues with my former employer,” he said. “Kela doesn’t even help me if I have to pay back three months of rent because I wasn’t working. When I go to the police to file charges, I want to do it with a Finnish citizen.”

Khalid said that he wanted to go to the police with a Finn because then they would take his case seriously. As a foreigner, they wouldn’t. 

He works two jobs today in cleaning construction work (8 hours), and after a 1:40-hour rest, he dashes to his second job. He sometimes works 12 hours a day.

Even so, he has the weekends off.

Khalid concludes: This will not be my last story about my abuse.