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Supervision of foreign labour: berry pickers’ neglected rights and employment relationships disguised as self-employment

27 Jun 2023

In 2022, the occupational safety and health authorities carried out more than 2,350 inspections supervising the use of foreign labour. A large number of shortcomings were again found in the minimum terms of employment, such as pay. Inspections discovered more and more employees who were treated at the workplace as helpers or so-called light entrepreneurs, even though they would have been entitled to employees’ rights in practice. There were significant shortcomings in compliance with the Berry Act on the rights of berry pickers.

This information is available in the recent report Supervision of the use of foreign labour in 2022.

Minimum terms of employment and right to work

The amount of shortcomings observed in the minimum terms of employment and the right to work remained about the same as the previous year. There were a large number of shortcomings in compliance with the minimum terms of employment for foreign workers, especially in pay. More than half of the inspections revealed shortcomings in the construction sector and the hotel and restaurant sector. Approximately 15% of the inspections concerning the right to work discovered employees with no right to work.
The occupational safety and health authority submitted to the police 190 reports concerning foreign employees that had no right to work. There were also 23 reports of work discrimination and extortionate discrimination at work. 

More and more employment relationships disguised as self-employment or “just helping”

Inspections of foreign labour are discovering more and more cases where it seems that a foreigner has an employment relationship with the employer even though this is not the case in the view of the business paying for the work. 

Inspectors encountered 422 so-called light entrepreneurs in 71 different inspections. Some of these cases constituted an employment relationship that had been disguised as entrepreneurship. The phenomenon is particularly common in the construction sector but also in cleaning, car repair shops and car wash shops. In addition, inspectors still ran into cases where employees were claimed to be “just helping”. 

Written advice was issued in 57 inspections on the grounds that the characteristics of an employment relationship were met even though there was no employment relationship according to the employer. From the perspective of labour legislation, a person doing work in exchange for payment is always either an entrepreneur or an employee, and the position of a so-called light entrepreneur does not differ from that of other kinds of entrepreneur. 

Major deficiencies in the wild berry business 

The act on the legal status of foreigners picking natural products, or the so-called Berry Act, was now enforced for the second year. Deficiencies in compliance with the Berry Act were observed in practically all inspections carried out at wild berry pickers’ bases, and the number of imposed obligations was considerable. 

In some cases, the supervision also focused on the terms and conditions of employment of the employees working at the bases, i.e. so-called support staff. Some of the shortcomings discovered in these inspections were very serious.

Closer cooperation with authorities and the third sector

In 2022, the additional resources received previously for the supervision of foreign labour helped enforcement to react better to received tips and participate in authorities’ joint inspections. About 460 joint inspections were carried out, and the information obtained from the other authorities was used in hundreds of inspections as well. Inspections were also carried out on the basis of tips from employee organisations and citizens. 

“Cooperation between authorities is essential in the fight against labour exploitation. Cooperation with the third sector has also become closer year by year”, says Senior Officer Katja-Pia Jenu from the Division of Occupational Safety and Health of the Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland.

Click here to read the report: Supervision of the use of foreign labour in 2022 (pdf in Finnish).

The report will also be published in Swedish and English. The English version will be available later at on page Publications and the Swedish version on page Publikationer.  

Senior Officer Katja-Pia Jenu, 
tel. +358 295 016 258, [email protected]
Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland, Occupational Safety and Health Division