Obligatory personal ID in construction, Finland
Undeclared work may be responsible for a significant proportion of total output in the Finnish economy, particularly in certain economic sectors such as construction, hotels and restaurants, or personal services. In February 2006, an amendment was made to the Occupational Safety and Health Act introducing an obligation to wear personal identification (kuvallinen kulkulupa) on building sites. This should help to curtail illegal practices.
Within certain sectors of economic activity in Finland – especially construction – undeclared work undermines honest competition and leads to tax losses amounting to hundreds of millions of euro annually. One measure to limit the functioning of the underground economy is the compulsory use of an identification (ID) access pass system for workers on construction sites, which can be used to monitor the shadow economy and illegal labour. It can also serve to promote industrial safety.
Section 52a concerning personal identification was introduced into the Occupational Safety and Health Act in February 2006. This section of the act obliges the parties directing or supervising a shared construction site to ensure that each person working on the site wears visible picture ID while operating on the site.
Monitoring IDs is the responsibility of the occupational safety and health authorities. Furthermore, in connection with a theme day in October 2008 to promote the use of IDs, the Confederation of Finnish Construction Industries (Rakennusteollisuus, RT) and the Finnish Construction Trade Union (Rakennusliitto) published a brochure in six languages to highlight the importance of the personal ID.
According to the Chair of the Finnish Construction Trade Union, Matti Harjuniemi, undeclared work in the construction sector inflicts considerable losses on the industry. The trade union is concerned about the competitive position of companies operating honestly and the employment situation of their workers. The underground economy provides no warranties and illegal workers tend not to be interested in producing quality. Therefore, the customers of companies operating outside the law also pay for the lack of a guarantee and the variable results of such work. The Finnish Construction Trade Union and RT have tried for years to root out the underground economy and illegal activities in the industry. The ID access pass is one visible outcome of this cooperation, which is still ongoing.
Manager of RT, Tapio Kari, emphasises that a key part of the system would be a list – kept on the construction site – of all workers entitled to work on the site so that the tax or occupational safety and health authorities could check afterwards who worked there and for whom. The system works best when the commissioner of the work requires that an up-to-date access pass list is maintained of all the workers of the companies operating on the construction site. In this case, the monitoring covers all subcontracting on the site and the preventive effect of the ID access pass system on illegal activity applies to the entire contracting chain.
Responsibility for organising ID access passes lies with the construction contractors, whose activity on building sites is now also monitored regarding the organisation of these passes. Inspector Keijo Päivärinta from the Uusimaa industrial safety district explains: ‘If the employer has not organised IDs for its workers, the industrial safety district notifies the police for the purpose of setting a fine.’
Evaluation and outcome
Achievement of objectives
In the summer of 2008, occupational safety and health authorities visited 46 major construction sites of eight different construction contractors. Significant differences were observed in the use of personal IDs. A total of 909 workers were checked, 426 of whom wore visible ID, while 177 workers carried ID but not in a visible place and 306 workers did not carry any ID. Use of the ID also varied by construction site. An ID pass was visible on 48% of the workers, on average. The situation was worst on a construction site where only 27% of workers wore visible ID. About 33% of the workers had no ID.
The aim was to continue these monitoring visits in the spring of 2009.
Obstacles and problems
The General Conditions for Buildings Contracts delegate the responsibility for the management of personal ID to the project supervisor. According to law, however, the obligation rests with the construction contractor.
During the procurement process, it must be confirmed that the subcontractor is aware of the use of compulsory ID and that the access control system is in operation on the construction site.
It is possible that subcontractors might not comply with the contractor’s guidelines if the contractor does not have sufficient resources to monitor the situation. The potential gain from criminal activities outweighs any eventual fine.
On the basis of the monitoring visits conducted by the occupational safety and health authorities in the summer of 2008, it would seem that the picture ID access pass system has not been comprehensively implemented even on large-scale and well-organised construction sites. This is despite the fact that the Occupational Safety and Health Act was amended as far back as February 2006. The situation may be even more unsatisfactory on construction sites run by smaller and less organised companies.
The Uusimaa industrial safety district in southern Finland intends to check 200 construction sites during 2009. The district has made the monitoring of illegal labour one of its focus points for the year.
No accurate data or research figures are yet available.
- Confederation of Finnish Construction Industries (Rakennusteollisuus, RT)
- Finnish Construction Trade Union (Rakennusliitto)
- Uusimaa industrial safety district (www.tyosuojelu.fi/fi/Uutsp)
Arto Miettinen, Statistics Finland