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09.11.2023 11:06

PAM immigrant survey: Those coming to work in service sectors have a high level of education, one in four has experienced discrimination

Immigrant members of Service Union United PAM feel that Finland is a good country to live in, even though many experience discrimination in wage payments and working hours. After an initial phase, many also consider looking for a job elsewhere, according to PAM’s survey.

Services are often the route through which many migrants enter the Finnish labour market. PAM has around 12,500 service sector workers with a foreign background, representing 6.2% of its total membership.

This number has increased almost tenfold since 2003, when there were around 1300.

Immigrants are treated worse in working life than the average PAM member. 23% of respondents feel they have been discriminated against at the workplace, and around 12% say they have been bullied. Compared to other members, immigrants are also less likely to feel part of the work community.

Most of the respondents to the PAM survey work in cleaning or property management (42%). The second-highest number of people work in restaurants, cafés or tourism (24%). Around one in five work in the commerce sector (18%).

The largest language groups are Russian, Estonian and English (totalling almost 40%) as well as Thai and Arabic (around 5% each).

Underdogs in working life

Respondents consider finding a job to be the biggest challenge in working life, and the second biggest is lack of language skills. Almost half (47%) had also found irregularities in wage payments by employers to be a big problem, and a slightly smaller number (43%) had experienced irregularities with holidays and days off.

According to project planner Marjut Pihonen, these irregularitiesare reflected in PAM’s employment advice helpline, for example, which is contacted around 40,000 times a year.

“Most of these contacts come from immigrant workers, and often they are the ones facing the worst neglect”, Pihonen says.

She believes that one of the reasons for this situation is immigrants’ lack of knowledge of Finnish society and their weak position in the labour market.

“The Finnish system, where generally binding collective agreements are still the norm in the services sector, is most beneficial to those in the weakest labour market position – young people and immigrants, as it guarantees the same minimum working conditions for all”, Pihonen says.

In services, there is a high share of part-time work in all sectors and immigrants are no exception. The majority of them (77%) would like to work more than they are offered. A particular feature is the high share of agency work. This was reported by 16% of respondents, compared to around 4.5% of temporary agency workers in the services sector in general. Agency work was particularly prominent among Arabic-speaking respondents.   

Wasted resource

Migrant workers are an important group who make sure that services in Finland work.

The level of education of respondents is clearly higher than the average for PAM members. The most common qualification among respondents is a university degree (48%) and the second most common is a vocational qualification (32%). The majority of those with a university degree had already graduated when they came to Finland.

Newcomers are initially happy when they come to Finland. The majority of respondents agree completely or somewhat with the statement that Finland is a good place to live (85%).  However, satisfaction levels decrease the longer a person has been in Finland. Satisfaction with wage levels also decreases.

Dissatisfaction with Finland is highest among those who have been in the country for 3–6 years. They are also those most intending to move away. Educational level increases intentions to look for employment in other EU countries.

“If immigrants experience discrimination in Finnish working life, it is understandable that dissatisfaction with Finland increases and that they increasingly intend to move away. In the open answers many examples are also given where a foreign surname has been a barrier to getting a job or an interview in job search situations”, Pihonen says.

Employers can do better

Pihonen says that responses show that the work community and supervisors can influence how satisfied immigrants are with Finland and whether they intend to look for a job outside Finland.

“This should be kept in mind when considering Finland’s attractiveness, not to mention its ability to hold on to workers. Highly educated immigrants are an asset in the workplace that can even be wasted in many jobs. Career paths should be created for immigrants in companies”, Pihonen says.

The web-based survey was sent in April 2023 to every PAM member and student member who indicated a mother tongue other than Finnish, Swedish or Sami in the union’s membership register. There are about 12,500 of them. There were 2118 respondents to the survey, giving a response rate of 17%. The survey was conducted in Finnish, English, Estonian, Russian and Arabic.

Read survey report in Finnish (pdf)