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Society - 29.08.2018 klo 11.13

Experts advise employees what to ask if they suspect work-related exploitation

According to PAM's lawyer, it is in the interest of society as a whole not to see parallel labour markets emerging. Photo: Gettyimages

In recent years the numbers of victims of human trafficking have been increasing. According to an expert, human trafficking is often difficult to spot, but people should have the confidence to act where they see exploitation. Due to their nature, service sectors can be susceptible to work-related exploitation.

Many forms of work-related exploitation occur in the labour market, and all too often especially in service sectors. Sometimes exploitation might mean somebody in a vulnerable position in the labour market being paid below the collective agreement. At its most extreme, exploitation can be criminal and at worst can amount to work-related human trafficking.

“Human trafficking related to labour exploitation refers to situations where a person may be working without any real ability to refuse or stop working without risking serious consequences”, says PAM’s lawyer Suvi Vilches.

“It can be hard for us to understand the means that are used to force somebody into this type of situation”, says Pia Marttila, Coordinator in support work for victims of human trafficking at Victim Support Finland.

“It is often imagined that human trafficking involves physical limitations on mobility, for example - otherwise why would a victim not escape? In reality, perpetrators might scare victims that they will lose their residence rights or some sensitive matter will be disclosed, or threaten the safety of victims’ families or exploit their own higher status in the community and victims’ own ignorance of their rights in Finland, or their fear of the authorities. Because of this it can be hard to spot human trafficking.”

At the end of June 2018, 86 of the clients of Victim Support Finland were victims of human trafficking and 20 were victims of crime similar to human trafficking. Over 60 per cent of those identified as victims of human trafficking had been the subject of work-related human trafficking and all cases of crimes similar to human trafficking had to do with work-related exploitation.

Service sectors susceptible to exploitation

PAM’s lawyer Suvi Vilches says that due to their nature, work-related exploitation occurs especially in service sectors.

"Service sector workplaces are often small, with employees working very independently ", Vilches says.

There are also many people in a weak labour market situation working in the sector - young people and immigrants.

Vilches says that from the union’s perspective shop stewards and other employees are in a key position in identifying work-related exploitation and bringing it to the union’s attention. Vilches admits, however, that shop stewards need training in detecting exploitation.

But she gives a few pointers as to how you can start.

“It is worth asking employees whether they have an employment contract and whether they are being paid the same amount as in the contract.”

You can also ask employees if they know how their pay is made up, whether it is paid into an account and what their working time is. It is typical in cases of human trafficking related to labour exploitation in Finland that on paper the employment appears completely legal. The employment contract often states the pay and working time in the collective agreement, but in reality these are not applied. It could also be that the contractual pay is paid into the employee’s account, but the employer might hold on to the employee’s bank card or require the employee to withdraw their pay in cash and give some back to the employer.

“It is also worth asking employees how they are treated at the workplace”, says Vilches.

“It is worth asking employees whether they have an employment contract and whether they are being paid the same amount as in the contract.”

According to Pia Marttila of Victim Support Finland, some employers are under the illusion that if for example all foreign workers at the workplace are treated the same and they are all paid well below the standard wages in the sector, that is not discrimination or exploitation. However, wages are reflected against the sector average and the employer may still be committing employment discrimination.

“It’s worth asking employees whether they have an employment contract and whether they are being paid the same amount stated in the contract.”
Suvi Vilches at PAM says that traditionally it has been thought that work-related exploitation mostly occurs in ethnic restaurants. This impression is changing, however.

“Unfortunately many types of exploitation occur at Finnish workplaces too, including forced labour, which is classified as human trafficking.”
Vilches says that opportunity makes a thief. Working conditions are not monitored very effectively in Finland and employers run a fairly minor risk of being charged or sentenced, even for serious labour exploitation. The financial gain from undercutting labour rights may be too much of a temptation when the risk of being caught is relatively small.

If an employee does not know the Finnish labour market, lacks language skills and perhaps has various permit applications pending, this can contribute to making exploitation more likely. Many people waiting for a residence permit might fear that their residence permit will be cancelled or not extended if they start contesting their employer. So-called undocumented persons fear that getting in touch will lead to them being detained and deported.

Suvi Vilches advises shop stewards not to hesitate to contact PAM if they suspect work-related exploitation at the workplace.
“It is in the interest of society as a whole not to see parallel labour markets emerging”, Vilches stresses.

Various definitions of exploitation:

Employment discrimination

An employee is put in a worse position than other employees for no valid reason. Discrimination of this type might occur based for example on race, ethnic origin, nationality, skin colour, language, gender, age, family situation, sexual orientation, state of health, religion, social opinions or political activity. Discrimination may be committed either by an employer or an employer’s representative. Employment discrimination based for example on ethnic origin or nationality may also be committed by and employer with the same ethnic origin or nationality.

Employment discrimination may also occur in the form of a threatening, hostile, degrading, humiliating or aggressive atmosphere. The intention of such an atmosphere is to offend the employee’s dignity or integrity. Offensive remarks, disguised as humour, and name-calling or degrading and humiliating behaviour are examples of harassment that is employment discrimination. Issuing instructions or orders to discriminate, and putting an employee at a disadvantage, also constitutes employment discrimination.

Extortion as employment discrimination
If employment discrimination involves placing an applicant or employee at a significant disadvantage by exploiting the applicant’s or employee’s financial or other distress, dependent status, lack of understanding, negligence or ignorance, the perpetrator is committing extortion that constitutes employment discrimination. Being at a disadvantage could mean being paid significantly lower wages or working longer working hours compared to other employees.

Human trafficking
Human trafficking in connection with labour exploitation refers to situations where a person is made to work without any real ability to refuse or stop working without risking serious consequences.

What is repeatedly seen in the employment conditions of victims of work-related human trafficking, regardless of sectors, is that compared to their workload victims work long days and are paid too little or not at all. Victims also typically do not get proper breaks during their long days. Because victims are working long days, they have little spare time and may even have to sleep at their workplace. Victims may have to endure psychological or physical violence. Victims’ bank cards and travel documents may have been confiscated by their employer.

Sources: www.työsyrjintä.fi,