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Working life - 09.03.2020 klo 13.30

MaRa and PAM: Authorities must have adequate powers and resources to address human trafficking

The Helsingin Sanomat daily wrote on Sunday, 8 March, about the human trafficking discovered in Nepalese restaurants. The article discussed how little the authorities have done to address the issue.

Helsingin Sanomat has done an excellent job highlighting human trafficking in Helsinki’s Nepalese restaurants. The Finnish Hospitality Association MaRa and Service Union United PAM have been actively working with the authorities to uncover the employment situation at Nepalese restaurants ever since Helsingin Sanomat published its previous piece of investigative journalism on the topic last spring. This work has been made more challenging by the fact that officials are understandably bound by strict confidentiality. 

There have been several obstacles to investigating the status of these restaurant employees. For example, the Finnish police does not have a dedicated unit focusing on human trafficking, which has made the process very slow. Resources dedicated to uncovering crimes are also lacking, which means that these types of crimes can remain invisible. According to the government programme, a human trafficking unit shall be established. The trade unions are appealing to the government to set up the unit quickly as possible, and to give it sufficient resources and authority. In addition, police resources allocated to detecting crime are insufficient. Additional resources must be granted so that crimes such as these ones can be uncovered.

More resources should also be directed to labour protection officials, and their monitoring of employment conditions should primarily target places where problems are likely to arise. Officials already have extensive access to information from each other, so it should be easy to survey high-risk companies.

Violating employee rights is wrong, primarily towards the employees themselves, but also towards society at large and other restaurants that fulfil their statutory obligations. Staff expenses represent a significant percentage of costs in the restaurant sector, typically taking up more than 30% of a company’s turnover, so a company that violates labour legislation and the collective agreement has an unfair competitive advantage. At the same time, these companies are stealing tax income from the state and pension funds from pensioners.

Employers that grossly disregard the terms of employment also tarnish the reputation of the restaurant sector. As the amount of available Finnish labour dwindles, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find enough restaurant employees from Finland. The labour shortage may prevent restaurants from growing, leading to the need to recruit from abroad. Violating employee rights and even outright trafficking cast a dark shadow over work-related immigration. 

The trade unions demand that employment legislation and the collective agreement must apply to all employees equally, both those from Finland and from elsewhere. Employees who join PAM will receive expert assistance in employment issues. Such assistance will help the union address the types of problems discussed in the Helsingin Sanomat article effectively and in a timely manner. The authorities should also monitor employment affairs at high-risk companies more actively. In addition, the problem areas in legislation and official practices highlighted in the article that may block the work against human trafficking must be amended quickly.

The customers at restaurants also have an important role to play in the fight against poor terms of employment and the grey economy. If the prices at a restaurant sound exceptionally low compared with the general price level, it is very possible that the low prices are enabled by poor terms of employment and tax evasion. In such cases, the customer may unwillingly be supporting restaurants that operate unfairly.