The Wood and Allied Workers’ Union demands that their work should be regarded as real employment and covered by the collective agreement which applies to allied rural industries. The pickers of cultivated berries are covered by the collective agreement.
Behind the recent discussion is the ongoing dispute between some 50 Thai wild berry pickers and the company that buys their berries. According to Finnish legislation picking wild berries in forests is a right to be enjoyed by everyone and is also exempt from taxation.
Thai berry pickers arrive on tourist visas and are not employed by the companies buying the berries. They themselves must shoulder the risk of a meagre crop or the possibility of illness while working in Finland.
In September a group of Thai berry pickers filed a criminal report against a berry buying company alleging human trafficking. They claimed that they have been lured from Thailand to Finland with false hopes of incomes. The prosecutor, however, ruled that no crime had been committed.
Chairperson of the Wood and Allied Workers’ Union, Sakari Lepola, met the representatives of Thai wild berry pickers. According to him this kind of work should be done under the terms of employment.
"In the future we have to ensure that such wild berry pickers cannot arrive from abroad via a middleman, working as an entrepreneur, and tourist visa", Lepola said.
One possibility would be to make existing work contracts a precondition for getting a visa. "Even though our union will not get seasonal wild berry pickers or other foreign seasonal workers as members, the generally binding collective agreement gives them support when there are disputes over pay and other things like terms of employment."
Lepola sees it as very embarrassing that no public authority has seen fit to address the Thai wild berry pickers’ issue. "The basic line in Finland should still be that human distress is an experience that does not belong to the Finnish labour market."
The director of employment and sustainable growth at the trade union federation SAK, Matti Tukiainen also says that everyone in Finland is worthy of human treatment.
"It is incomprehensible that in a state based on justice and integrity like Finland, we can import poor people as 'entrepreneurs' from 8,000 kilometer away and leave them to survive completely alone while they try to keep their rights and human dignity."
SAK supports the goal to treat wild berry pickers as employees covered by the collective agreement of allied rural industries.
In Sweden the Thai wild berry pickers are employed, usually via an employment agency. This year Sweden granted some 6 000 visas to Thai wild berry pickers.