Seeking labour market equality

Construction as a service

Seeking labour market equality

There’s both good and bad news. Companies are becoming more aware and increasingly proactive. People are very familiar with the Client Liability Act, and things are going well in that respect. However, it doesn’t say anything about employment contracts or ensure that wages are paid correctly.

“My responsibilities in the field of occupational safety and health include employer supervision and advising both employers and employees. I specialise in the supervision of foreign employees,” says Katja-Pia Jenu, an occupational health and safety inspector at the Regional State Administrative Agency.

“Our primary objective is to achieve a level playing field and prevent inequality and segregation in the labour market. Otherwise, Finnish employees will have their own labour market and foreigners another.”

However, we are still a long way off our target.

“The biggest problems facing foreign employees are usually not those associated with traditional occupational safety. There are deficiencies in employment contracts, and work permits may have expired or be completely non-existent. These things will not be revealed during traditional occupational safety inspections.”

“When it comes to asylum seekers in particular, society is under heavy pressure to get them into employment, and this has its side effects. For example, they can ostensibly be turned into entrepreneurs, so that their employer – often an agency – avoids paying employer contributions. It feels as if people get up to all kinds of tricks in the guise of charity,” says Katja-Pia Jenu.

“These are also serious issues with regard to a company’s risk management. If someone working on a construction site is an entrepreneur and has no employment contract, their documents should have been checked in accordance with the Client Liability Act – and this often hasn’t been done.”

Power in cooperation

Katja-Pia engages in a lot of cooperation with both authorities and companies.

“The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health determines the number of annual inspections to be conducted. It’s good that these notifications – that is, control requests – are made, as it enables better-targeted inspections,” says Katja-Pia Jenu.

“Cooperation with the authorities is extremely helpful, and I do a lot of work with TE offices, the Finnish Immigration Service and the Finnish Border Guard. If a crime is suspected, we will ask the police to investigate. Suspected criminal activity will usually involve employees working without a work permit, discrimination or, in the most serious cases, forced labour.”

“Representatives from the Tax Administration and Finnish Centre For Pensions are often present during on-site inspections. Employee interviews are an important part of an inspection, as some companies do not operate honestly and may not record working hours accurately. Comparative data can only be acquired by interviewing people,” says Katja-Pia Jenu.

“It may be that we visit a site to see whether anyone is working at the weekend, and then we can also check to see if they have received appropriate compensation for overtime, evening work or weekend work.”

“Our authorities aren’t looking to make life difficult for companies – they only want to ensure compliance with employment contracts. Anyone can request an inspection if they suspect that things are not in order. Inspection reports are public, so companies can also use the data in their own risk management,” says Katja-Pia Jenu.

Katja-Pia hopes that companies will take a more active role in making improvements.

“The client is often in a good position to influence their subcontractors’ operations, so that corrective measures can be taken or other changes made in line with official recommendations. It’s always easier to make an impact when money or contracts are at stake,” says Katja-Pia Jenu.

Sometimes the client will also be asked to help with the supervision of foreign companies.

“In seven out of ten cases, there are problems associated with the payment of foreign employees sent to work in the construction industry. Sometimes we simply cannot obtain access to the required paperwork, and so we ask the client for assistance.”

Good and bad news

Where are things headed in Finland?

“There’s both good and bad news. Companies are becoming more aware and increasingly proactive. People are very familiar with the Client Liability Act, and things are going well in that respect. However, it doesn’t say anything about employment contracts or ensure that wages are paid correctly.”

“And the current global situation isn’t helping. The difficult situation in Ukraine is being reflected in the statistics. The salary level there is so low that people are willing to work for very low wages in Finland, and this in turn attracts those who are seeking to profit from the situation. Dubious employment agents have already been on the prowl,” says Katja-Pia Jenu.

Katja-Pia Jenu’s three wishes for companies

“Subcontracting should not only look at the price – don’t sign contracts that are clearly underpriced. Keep your eyes open – is it even possible to do the work in question at the quoted price?”

“Stop and ask yourself whether it all adds up? What’s going on at the construction site on weekends? If a person works 6–7 days per week, then overtime and weekend extras will not be paid with an underpriced contract.”

“Make more effective use of ethical channels and intervene in problems. I’d like the client to use their role to resolve problems – to dare to use their power to rectify things and, if necessary, to impose contractual sanctions.”

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