Healthcare union advises caution when recruiting nurses from abroad

The Finnish public healthcare sector is currently suffering from an acute shortage of nurses. It is therefore likely that the immigration of nurses will significantly increase in the future. The Union of Health and Social Care Professionals has put forward principles concerning the recruitment of nursing staff from abroad. The union wishes that foreign healthcare workers will be informed about the terms and conditions of employment before arriving in Finland.

Nurse shortage in public healthcare

Despite the ongoing economic recession, there is one sector of activity in Finland in which workers do not need to fear losing their jobs, namely in public healthcare. According to the Personnel Manager of the Helsinki University Central Hospital (HUCH), Kirsi Sillanpää, ‘the labour shortage has been serious for several years, but now it has become even more acute’.

According to the Chair of the HUCH section of the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Terveyden- ja sosiaalihuoltoalan ammattijärjestö, Tehy), Reija Sjöholm, overtime work, for instance, brings in so little pay that it is no longer attractive for healthcare workers. Moreover, there is a shortage of temporary agency workers in the public healthcare sector.

Nevertheless, some hope emerges in public healthcare that the recession may help ease the situation of an acute labour shortage and will attract nurses from the private sector. ‘The fact that things are going badly in the private sector will certainly ease our labour shortage’, observes Ms Sjöholm in this regard.

To cope with the labour shortage in the longer term, public hospital districts have been looking abroad for labour. There are currently many projects underway to recruit foreign labour from China, Hungary, Poland and the Philippines. Up until now, the number of nurses being recruited from these countries has been relatively small; however, it is believed that the number of nurses being recruited from abroad will increase significantly in the future. Tehy, affiliated to the Finnish Confederation of Salaried Employees (Toimihenkilökeskusjärjestö, STTK), does not oppose such recruitment in principle, but the trade union draws attention to the problems that have occurred when recruiting workers from abroad.

Problems with recruiting from abroad

Tehy sees a number of problems in recruiting nurses from abroad. The trade union feels that there is a general danger that western countries will deprive their local hospitals of native labour. Tehy’s second concern relates to the lack of language skills of foreign nurses, which could endanger patient safety in Finland. In addition, the trade union emphasises that it is impossible to establish a two-tier labour market in public healthcare in Finland, where migrant nurses work under poorer terms and conditions of employment than Finnish nationals.

The Director of Tehy’s international issues department, Sari Koivuniemi, stated that nurses recruited from abroad should gain sufficient knowledge about the Finnish terms and conditions of employment, assignment and pay in public healthcare before coming to work in Finland. According to Ms Koivuniemi, cases have occurred where the recruitment agencies abroad were inexperienced regarding the Finnish healthcare sector and its skills demands.

A lawyer for Tehy, Vappu Okkeri, highlighted that migrant workers should receive the same salary as other workers in similar healthcare posts and that they should be employed for assignments in which they have training.

Finnish nurses working abroad to be recruited back

According to Tehy, the total number of Finnish nurses working abroad stands at 3,350 people. When including all healthcare professionals who are members of Tehy, the figure amounts to over 6,500 people.

Several municipalities plan to recruit back Finnish nurses who are currently working abroad. Hospital districts, the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities (Suomen Kuntaliitto) and Tehy are all involved in the plan.

Pertti Jokivuori, Statistics Finland / University of Jyväskylä

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