Now in its second year, the ‘Berries Act’ addresses some of the issues faced by migrant workers in industry.
The number of Thai berry pickers arriving in Finland this week is expected to be higher than ever. Thai authorities have authorized more than 4,000 berry pickers to work in Finland in 2022, 500 more than in previous years.
On the Finnish side, the employment agency North Ostrobothnia TE coordinates the arrival of berry pickers. Service Manager Mari Tuomikoski said that it is not yet possible to confirm whether the quota authorized by the Thai authorities will be reached.
Among the major berry companies, Polarica Berries and Fruits will bring 1,100 berry pickers to Finland, and Marja Bothnia Berries will welcome 900 migrant workers.
Blueberries and blackberries are expected to have a good harvest this year, CEO of Polarica Jukka Kristo declared. According to the Finnish Institute of Natural Resources (Luke), blueberry pollination has been excellent and berries are plentiful across the country this year.
“Overall, the season looks good at the moment, but we don’t yet know how the war in Ukraine and inflation will affect the berry sector,” Kristo told Yle.
Carefully planned arrival of berry pickers
Tuomikoski of TE’s employment office said several Thai authorities, ministries and authorities are involved in planning for the arrival of the berry pickers.
“Before the start of the picking season, launch events will be organized for these companies in cooperation with the Ministry of Employment and Economy as well as Thai and embassy officials,” Tuomikoski said.
Thai pickers are important for the Finnish berry sector. Two years ago, it was feared that the entire berry harvest could be lost when Thai authorities restricted the entry of pickers into Finland due to the Covid pandemic.
Berries are also valuable to pickers in terms of profit. Last year, the net salary for a few months of berry picking reached a maximum of 12,000 euros.
The second summer of the “law of the berries”
For the second berry picking season, the “berry law” aims to prevent conflicts between pickers and companies in the sector. The law on the legal status of foreigners who collect natural products came into force in June last year.
The law does not refer directly to the rights of berry pickers, but rather those of wild product pickers, as it covers, among others, mushroom pickers. The law defines the rights of the harvester and the obligations of the companies that buy the natural products.
In the past, the legal relationship between berry pickers and companies was unregulated, said Niko Huru, labor inspector of the Regional Administrative Agency of the State of Northern Finland. In the past, human trafficking and the squalid conditions of pickers have been problems for the industry.
“[Before the law] anyone could sell berries to anyone and get some sort of compensation. If there was a dispute, it was purely a civil dispute,” Huru said.
However, berry picking was not entirely unregulated. Before the law, there was a system of letters of intent.
“Companies were bound by the agreement to much the same obligations that are now imposed by law,” Huru said.
Polarica’s Kristo said the new law is welcome and the conditions it imposes are not burdensome for employers.
“These are all things that we have known for a long time. I don’t think the law will force the big operators to do the impossible. The good thing is that it will standardize the requirements so that they are the same for everyone ,” Kristo told Yle.
Kristo noted that reputation is vitally important to employers.
“I have now welcomed them [berry pickers] to Finland. About 80% have been with us before and 20% are family members. There must be a reason why they come to us year after year to choose,” Kristo said.