Estonia provides Finland with good, cheap labour

By Minna Ala-Kyyny & Sampo Utriainen

Finland is the most popular destination country for Estonian labour. Approximately 50,000–100,000 Estonia’s residents regularly commute to Finland. The construction industry, heavy industry, bus or lorry driving and nursing are the main areas of work of the Estonian guest workers.

Estonian workers cutting the lime stone

After joining the EU Estonian labour have moved to work in other EU countries. Better wages is the chief motivation of the Estonians who leave home to work abroad.

Today Finland, Germany and the UK are the most popular destination countries. One third of the Estonians interested working abroad wants to work in Finland.

–The less educated people are a little bit more anxious to try their hand abroad than the highly educated people, says Mr. Imre Siil, 2nd Secretary at the Estonian Embassy in Helsinki.

The most Estonians want to work abroad temporarily. Thet do not want to move to Finland permanently. They want to earn some extra money to buy, e.g. a car.

At least 5% of workforce have jobs in Finland

Construction worker

According to a Statistics Finland estimate, around 21,000 Estonians travel back and forth to work in Finland. In addition to these, the Finnish migration authority has records on nearly 25,000 Estonians residing permanently in Finland.

However, due to the free movement of labour force it is difficult to accurately establish how many Estonians have jobs in Finland, Estonian television ETV reported that the number is at least 46,000, making up approximately 5 percent of the working-age population.

Approximately 50,000 – 100,000 Estonia’s residents regularly commute to Finland. So far, only on the ferries between Tallinn and Helsinki can one detect the number of Estonians working in Finland. The authorities do not have exact figures or predictions to display.

The prospect of higher salaries

The greatest motivator for embarking on a mission to Finland is the prospect of higher salaries. The Estonian workers can hope to earn wages up to 4 times higher than those in their country of origin in certain sectors. An average monthly salary in Finland is EUR 2,940 against Estonia’s EUR 775.

The construction industry, heavy industry – mainly for qualified welders -, bus or lorry driving and nursing are the main areas of work. Low-skilled work, particularly, in the hotel, cleaning and catering industry or in seasonal agricultural work, also attract a lot of young Estonians, both workers and students.

In October, the Estonian business daily Äripäev estimated the number of Estonian construction workers in Finland to be around 30,000. According to Mr. Kalev Liibert from the Finnish Construction Trade Union it is hard to find a construction site in the country where there are no Estonians at work.

Trade unions concern on the misuse of the foreign workforce

The problem according to trade unions is that employers don’t follow the collective agreements of the field or rules for the working conditions. Trade unions don’t say it loud but the main reason is that it can lead to assisting foreign labour instead of Finnish. The official statement is the concern about the misuse of the foreign workforce.

Many of those fields employing a lot of Estonian workers are known to have grey economy. Both Finnish trade unions and The Confederation of Finnish Industries are informing employers and foreign workers in the issues like taxes, minimum wages and other rules.

Ms. Nina Kreutzman from the Finnish Construction Trade Union says that the issue is not straightforward.

– The migration inside the EU is a good thing in many ways but causes also problems. The grey economy is a big problem at the construction field and sometimes the foreign workforce is used as a cheap labour.

For a question about Estonian workforce’s impact on employment in the field, she does not respond directly.

– In the Helsinki sub-region a half of all construction workers are already Estonians. The same number of Finnish people are unemployed in the same field.

Construction sector is highly competitive. One way to survive is to save on labour costs. Some firms count on that foreign workers don’t require the wage under the collective agreement or even statutory minimum wage.

– In some cases everything has been handled very well. Then some foreign workers have been paid only two euros for hour. In worst cases we can talk about human trafficking but they concern some foreign rental work agencies or firms.

The Finnish Construction Trade Union also wants to promote the interests of foreign workers and welcome them to join the union.

– We founded the union for foreign workers and that is now one of our biggest unions in Helsinki sub-region. We also have an office in Tallinn so we can inform Estonians who want to work in Finland.

The central labour market organisations take stand against the grey economy

Also Finland’s central labour market organisations and the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities are worried about the grey economy and the misuse of the workforce.

They say the grey economy is a troubling phenomenon. As a result taxes and social security contributions are not paid, and workers receive lower wages than those agreed in collective agreements.

This makes it harder for honest companies and organisations to offer their services. In addition, the grey economy increases the tax burden on these and wage earners.

77 000 Estonians want to work abroad

Map of Estonia

A recent survey commissioned by the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs found that the number of people aged 15-64 who have resolved to move abroad in search of a job has risen to 77,000, or 8.5 percent of the working-age population, compared to 36,000 in the boom year, 2006.

According to the results of the research, 15% of the residents, who have already taken particular actions to start working abroad, want to leave Estonia forever.

The most willing to work in Finland are students, men, and the young. Also, the Russians are slightly more eager to have a go than the Estonians.

High unemployment is background for risen interest to emigrate. The unemployment rate registered in late 2011 shows a climb of one percentage point, reaching 14.4%, according to the Estonian State Employment Agency (SEA) data.

It is also easy Estonians to move to Finland as they already know the language and the cultural differences are small. It is also easy to go back to the family during the weekends. On the other side there already exists an Estonian community in Finland. 

Emigration is not a problem for Estonia

The result of the high migration can be labour shortages in specific sectors. Last year, 398 medical workers obtained their credentials from the Health Board in order to work abroad.

In the current climate of lamenting a supposed exodus of the Estonian workforce, Minister of Social Affairs Mr. Hanno Pevkur has struck a different note, saying emigration is not a problem in Estonia. The number of Estonians working abroad is not high and many will likely return home.

Estonian Social Minister: Emigration ‘Not a Problem

Nearly 400 Physicians Prepared to Leave Country in 2010


One Response to “Estonia provides Finland with good, cheap labour”

  1. peterverweij Says:

    Good story, and good news selection; good use of sources and accurate information about the problem. The EU perspective is covered and explained. Reference to sources is providing background. Oral sources add a clear perspective to the story.

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