Employers seek more foreign labour
In autumn 2002, debate on immigration policy has continued in Finland, in the light of forecasts of labour shortages in a few years time, when large numbers of workers retire. Therefore, according to the employers, it should be possible to allow more workers from non-EU countries into Finland. The trade unions take a slightly sceptical view of such a development.
Debate among politicians and the social partners on foreign workers has continued in autumn 2002 (FI0203101N). Immigrant workers from outside the current EU are widely considered to be an answer to the threat of labour shortages, which are expected in few years after major age cohorts retire. The enlargement of the EU and globalisation have strengthened employers' demands to open Finland's borders to more foreign workers. Politicians have also addressed this issue in preparing for the parliamentary elections in spring 2003. On the right wing there is a view that more foreign labour could be brought in from abroad. On the left wing, the domestic unemployed 'labour reserve', which consists of 10% of the labour force, is the first priority. The position of unemployed people is a key division between the views of the two sides in this area.
The employers are ready for radical change on immigration. Both the Confederation of Finnish Industry and Employers (Teollisuuden ja Työnantajain Keskusliitto, TT) and the Employers’ Confederation of Service Industries (Palvelutyönantajat, PT) are calling for a more active immigration policy in the next government's programme.
According to the managing director of PT, Arto Ojala, over 2004-5 more employees will leave the labour market than will enter, and 'it is quite clear that productivity can not be increased that fast.' Though an increase in the average retirement age will help, in his view there must also be more labour immigration. He demands that the government take clear action in this area. According to the manager of TT, Jussi Mustonen, greater immigration should have been discussed 10 years ago. In his opinion, there are no barriers to hiring foreign labour in multinational companies: 'it should be understood that an active immigration policy benefits both foreigners and native citizens.'
The main concern of the largest trade union organisation, the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiliittojen Keskusjärjestö, SAK) is that the entry of more foreign workers into the Finnish labour market might undermine conditions of employment. SAK wants foreign workers to be covered by Finnish collective agreements.
So far, the main example of non-EU workers entering Finnish labour markets is the shipping sector, where there have been efforts to open up possibilities for foreign workers to be employed on Finnish vessels (FI0209106N). This has been motivated by the employers' threat that the vessels would otherwise be 'outflagged' (ie transferred to the register of another country) (FI0105187F).
The programme of the government to be elected in spring 2003 should clarify the Finnish position on the question of non-EU labour immigration.