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Exploitation and discrimination against foreign workers

What is labor exploitation?

Labor exploitation exists also in Finland, and the victim is often a foreigner. The conditions of labor exploitation can arise in all sorts of circumstances, as when workers do not know their rights in the Finnish labor market, or if they are afraid of losing their right to stay in the country. Common forms of labor exploitation may resemble the following situations:

  • the worker is paid less than they should under current legislation
  • the worker is denied days off
  • the worker is required to work long hours without proper compensation

Labor exploitation can also involve other factors, such as:

  • the employer deducts money from the worker’s pay for providing the job, for supplying a residence permit, or for over-reporting wages to enable the worker to secure residence permits for family members
  • the worker is denied sick leave
  • the worker has no access to occupational health services
  • identity theft
  • substandard accommodations

If the exploitation includes also a de facto restriction of the employee’s freedom, the use of force, pressuring, threats, debt bondage, misleading, false promises or violence, it might fill the description of human trafficking.

When is low pay a crime?

In the Finnish criminal code, labor exploitation is criminalized as for example work discrimination, extortionate work discrimination, aggravated usury or in its most severe form as human trafficking.

For example, it is a sign of work discrimination when a foreign employee is not paid the wages, bonuses or other compensation required under the statutory law (such as a collective labor agreement). For the conditions of work discrimination to be met, the foreign worker must be in a disadvantaged position relative to native Finnish workers, for instance.

If the employer only has foreign workers, the workers’ conditions are evaluated against normal labor market standards, that is, against employees in businesses that satisfy the minimum requirements of the collective labor agreement. In other words, it is possible for an employer to discriminate against all employees of the company or enterprise.

Underpaid work can also be a case of criminal discrimination, as when the employer neglects to pay foreign workers compensation for overtime. If neglect of wage payment involves basic pay or overtime compensation, as in cases where a worker’s hours are long on a regular basis, the case can be one of extortionate work discrimination. An employer can be guilty of work discrimination based on national or ethnic origin, even when the employer is of the same background.

Who can I contact?

In addition to the police, cases of worker exploitation are investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. However, victims of criminal exploitation may be afraid to contact the authorities immediately. If you are unsure if you should make a report and would like more information, or if you are afraid to report abuse to the authorities, you can contact Victim Support Finland, for example, to discuss your case confidentially.

Persons who are suspected of being victims of labor exploitation can get advice from Victim Support Finland on how to handle the matter. Victim Support Finland does not pass on any information about such contact to other parties.

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