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Working conditions - 16.03.2020 klo 11.30

Work-related exploitation has been revealed in the Nepalese restaurants highlighting the labor market's deviation sides

Although the union is doing its best to improve the position of foreign workers in the labour market, it is important to remember the powers and resources available to the authorities. Photo: GettyImages.

Since last spring PAM has been involved in investigating working conditions at Nepalese restaurants together with the authorities. Rotting out work-related exploitation will take broad-based collaboration by the authorities.

PAM is contacted around 50,000 times a year by members on employment-related matters. Many of those getting in touch are non-Finnish speakers, as they represent a growing share of PAM’s membership, especially in the restaurant and cleaning sectors. 

The most typical problems have to do with unpaid wages and termination of employment. 
“Sometimes there are more serious failings and PAM has for example supported a group of foreigners in court in a trial against exploitative work-based discrimination, demanding in court that underpaid workers are paid what they are due and also compensation from the employer for discriminating against employees based on ethnic background or lack of language skills”, says PAM’s lawyer Suvi Vilches

“PAM also always assists the police, if they request it, to work out unpaid wages when an offence is being investigated because this is considered important”, says PAM official Jari Järn from the Helsinki-Uusimaa regional office.  

There have also been many other court cases involving employees with foreign backgrounds. For example, in January PAM reported the dismissal of five cleaners with foreign backgrounds, which was found to be unlawful in court.

In PAM’s view there is also a lot of exploitation of foreigners in the labour market that bears the hallmarks of serious crimes, but it is unusual for these cases to come to light. But this case is about extensive and systematic exploitation of restaurant workers which PAM has being doing whatever it can to investigate since spring 2019. 

The #EU4FairWork campaign: undeclared work does not respect national borders 

Together with other organisations, ministries and supervisory authorities, Service Union United PAM is part of the European Labour Authority’s #EU4FairWork campaign. The campaign shares information about how to tackle undeclared work and why declared work is in everybody’s interest. Everyone is entitled to fair working conditions and a good working environment. 
The campaign runs until June 2020. Follow the campaign on social media with the hashtag #EU4FairWork.
More information on the campaign is also available on the website of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.

Support to the Nepalese restaurant workers

Over the past year PAM has been working on comprehensive solutions to improve the labour market position of Nepalese restaurant workers.  

“We have for example helped employees to transfer to a responsible employer. This was a project in cooperation with member companies of board of the Finnish Hospitality Association MaRa, Vilches mentions. 

PAM has also arranged meetings for Nepalese employees and a number of training sessions on Finnish working conditions using an interpreter and the next collective agreement training session is planned for the spring. 

“There will be a new collective agreement in the hospitality sector in the spring, so it’s a good time for some targeted training”, says Järn.  

The union is also currently looking for a contact person to act as a link between the union and Nepalese restaurant workers. PAM can help by providing training for this contact person. 

PAM has also decided to offer those Nepalese cooks who are union members Finnish language training specially designed for them. The union has for years organised language training for members through the popular Opi Suomea courses. Since this particular case represents serious and extensive criminal exploitation, PAM’s management team saw the need to offer a separate course of this type. 

Under PAM’s rules on legal assistance, the union can cover legal costs in certain particular cases even if an employee does not meet the so-called full membership criterion (normally 6 months’ membership). As soon as the cases came to light last spring, the union decided to make an exception to the membership criterion and help these cooks who were facing serious exploitation.

PAM cannot, however, publicly reveal any details of how it assists the affairs of individual members.  However, it should be pointed out that the union cannot seek justice on behalf of a member by itself. 

“A court case always requires the consent of the employee and authorisation must be provided by them”, says Vilches.  Without the employee’s consent PAM also cannot proceed with the employer or make any demands, for example when it comes to providing documentation. 

Adequate power and resources for authorities

Although the union is doing its best to improve the position of foreign workers in the labour market, it is important to remember the powers and resources available to the authorities

A challenging aspect of revealing offences is that abuses by an employer are not revealed in workplace inspections carried out by labour inspectorates. If the inspection finds that the shift lists appear to be in order and wages are as per the collective agreement, the Regional State Administrative Agency generally cannot see what the employer is up to.  

So rooting out this serious phenomenon calls for tougher action and a coordinated approach by the authorities. It requires more resources for unscheduled monitoring and surprise visits by labour inspectorates and joint monitoring visits with the police. There should also be significant extra resources and training for the police to investigate human trafficking and exploitative work-based discrimination and the possibility of using so-called disclosing activities in investigating these crimes.

PAM is also actively involved in the #EU4FairWork campaign against undeclared work with the labour authorities and other unions. The case of the Nepalese employees is one of undeclared work, even though their labour permits are in order and the employees are not “illegal labour”.

“The extra bit that these workers are doing – and where the employer benefits financially – is undeclared work, because no taxes or social security contributions are being paid”, say Vilches and Järn. 

PAM also supports the Finnish government’s commitment in its programme to actions to prevent underpayment and urges the government to look into introducing administrative penalties to sanction employers who undercut collective agreements. 

Checklist for combating work-based exploitation 

Everybody’s help is needed in the fight against sub-standard working conditions and the grey economy. Whether you are a customer, a shop steward or a passer-by. Look through the checklist for combating work-based exploitation below.

•    The term exploitation covers various types of exploitation of employees. The spectrum is wide, ranging from wages that breach collective agreements to work-related human trafficking, i.e. forced labour. Check different definitions of exploitation here.
•    Employees who are subject to exploitation are not a heterogeneous group, and there is no particular type of victim, rather all persons are individuals who are subject to exploitation by their employer. Work-related exploitation is often directed at persons with an immigrant background because for various reasons they are in a weaker position in the labour market. An employee can become vulnerable to exploitation due to things like ignorance of the Finnish labour market, not knowing the language, the fact that their permit process is ongoing and worries about their family members being able to stay. 
•    Exploitation can create dependency, with employees not daring to report cases. Family ties with an employer or blackmail can also be reasons why employees don’t dare to take action. If you are in direct contact with someone in a vulnerable position, report it to Victim Support Finland, who can discuss the possibilities with the person concerned.
•    Increasing numbers of Finnish companies do not comply with collective agreements. Labour exploitation occurs even at organised workplaces. That is why it is important for shop stewards to inform all employees at the workplace (using an interpreter if necessary) about workers’ rights, tell them what’s in the collective agreement and offer PAM membership.
•    If there is no shop steward at a workplace, other employees have a key role in identifying cases of exploitation and notifying the trade union. It is advisable to ask the employee concerned if they have an employment contract and if their wages are as per the collective agreement. You can also ask the employee if they know how their wages are made up, if the wages are paid to a bank account and what hours they work.
•    If a foreign employee is unsure if their working conditions and wages are correct, you can suggest they contact SAK’s free employment advice service, where workers with a foreign background can get information on their right to work in the country and minimum employment conditions.
•    As of March 2020 PAM has set up dedicated telephone advice lines in English. For membership enquiries call 030 100 630 and for employment enquiries call 030 100 625 weekdays from 10 am-2 pm.
•    If you see anything indicating human trafficking, contact the Regional State Administrative Agency or the police. Tip-offs can be made anonymously.