Helsinki (24.03.2014 - Heikki Jokinen) Foreign seasonal wild berry pickers should be employed properly, proposes rapporteur Markku Wallin who has examined the situation and the working conditions of thousands of wild berry pickers coming to Finland every year.

Mr. Wallin proposes that the berry pickers should get employment contracts from the companies buying their berries. Their work should be regulated as is any work in Finland. Another alternative would be to create separate legislation, but the rapporteur sees this as the least favourable option.

At the moment seasonal wild berry pickers are in a kind of legal limbo. Their legal status in unclear: they are not seen as being employees and nor are they considered to be self-employed. They work at their own risk. According to Finnish legislation picking wild berries in forests is a right to be enjoyed by everyone and is also exempt from taxation.

"In respect of employed status, forest berry pickers would be treated in the same way as pickers employed in gardens and berry plantations who can work for several employers simultaneously or in succession. In Sweden, picking carried out under employed status has still been profitable for the berry buyers", Wallin says.

There are some 4,000 seasonal wild berry pickers who come to Finland each year, most of them from Thailand.

Trade unions support employment

Trade unions have been extremely critical of the situation that exists, for many years now. There have been several conflicts due to the high risk poor people from Thailand have to take in order to come to Finland.

The Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions SAK welcomes the report and proposals for proper employment contracts.

SAK lawyer Anu-Tuija Lehto stresses that the situation of the pickers is intolerable and that a solution to this problem is needed quickly. "The way we treat poor people coming to work here is shameful for a country like Finland which endorses human rights."

The Wood and Allied Worker's Union has been demanding for a long time that this kind of work should be done under proper terms of employment. The union has a collective agreement for berry picking. This could be used for wild berry pickers, too.

The rapporteur also sees the proposed improvement as being good for the berry business. "The international image of Finland's forest berries would be improved by marketing and developing new food products and special products for the health and beauty sector."

The Ministry of Employment and the Economy and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs commissioned the report. Markku Wallin is the Director General of the Knowledge Management Department at the Ministry of Employment and the Economy.

Read also:

Thai berry pickers remain outside agreement and unprotected (03.10.2013)

Wood and Allied Worker's Union collective agreement for berry picking 2014 (In Finnish, Estonian, German, Russian and Polish)