Help for immigrants
Workers who have come from abroad will finally get their own employment advisory services as of the beginning of March. Help will also be available for non-union members and undocumented people.
The first step towards help with employment issues tailored for foreigners has been taken now that the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) is hiring a lawyer to provide employment advice for immigrants. The lawyer will be available for consultation by phone and via e-mail and will also spend time at the info point based at Helsinki City Hall. The service is intended for foreigners temporarily or permanently working in Finland and it does not require union membership.
‘We are now testing what the service would be like. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and start preventing abusive situations. At the same time, we receive information about the types and amounts of services required,’ says SAK immigration expert Eve Kyntäjä.
She admits that the Finnish trade union movement has been cautious in terms of addressing the needs brought about by increasing immigration. The majority of immigrants come from countries where trade unions do not exist or only cover a small proportion of workers. Organising immigrants is also important for SAK-affiliated unions, which cover sectors with plenty of foreign employees.
According to Kyntäjä, the employment advisory services will not ask to see any identification. This means that help will also be available for so-called undocumented people – in other words, those working and residing in Finland without a residence permit. In a release issued back in March 2011, SAK already expressed its concerns about undocumented people on the labour market, who can easily be left without pay. They run the risk of being deported rapidly if it becomes clear that they are staying in the country illegally. They are therefore afraid of the authorities, which means that it may be difficult for the City Hall info point to reach these most vulnerable individuals.
In Sweden, trade unions have already been operating a joint service point specifically catering for undocumented people for eight years now. Of course, our neighbouring country has a larger immigrant population with a considerably higher share of undocumented people: while estimates on the numbers of undocumented people in Finland vary between a few hundred to a few thousand, the corresponding estimate in Sweden stands at tens of thousands.
The advisory service forms part of a joint project entitled Töissä Suomessa (At Work in Finland), which develops and coordinates immigrant advisory services with support from the European Social Fund. Kyntäjä hopes that the project will only be the first step towards a permanent advisory service that will also be developed further. In addition to SAK along with the City of Helsinki as the leading partner, the project also involves the Cities of Espoo and Vantaa, the Helsinki Chamber of Commerce representing employers and the Moniheli Network of Multicultural Associations.