Monday 4/12/21

Government aims to improve the status of foreign berry pickers

The changes are scheduled to enter into force before the start of the harvest season of 2021.
seasonal work Lingon berry pickers by Lena Svensson Pixabay
Photo: Lena Svensson/Pixabay.

On 31 March, the Finnish Government proposed new legislation with the aim to "improve the legal status and earnings opportunities of foreign berry pickers and to make the competitive environment equal to companies in the sector."

"As foreign berry pickers have not been deemed to be in an employment relationship but instead to work as entrepreneurs, their status is currently unregulated from a legal point of view," says the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

A letter-of-intent procedure was introduced in autumn 2014 for the authorities and natural product companies. Because of this procedure, the conditions and earnings opportunities of berry pickers have improved. A persistent problem is, however, that the procedure is only loosely binding and slow to react to emerging problems.

The new Act would lay down provisions on the rights of wild produce pickers, obligations of the operators in the sector, monitoring of compliance with the obligations and sanctions for failure to comply with them.

The obligations of companies purchasing natural products would remain largely the same as currently laid down in the letter of intent. However, they would be laid down in more detail and in more binding terms.

“With this legislation, we will ensure that Finnish rules apply to berry picking. While the letter of intent has improved the situation substantially, it is clear we need binding laws on wild berry picking too. The need for new legislation is obvious,” says Minister of Employment Tuula Haatainen.

Differences from the current situation

The new Act would differ from the current letter of intent in that it would include an absolute ban on charging pickers for recruitment services and training. Government says these proposals are relevant for improving the legal status of pickers from abroad. Operators in the sector would also have a cooperation obligation to improve the picking results.

According to the new Act, operators in the natural product picking sector should be reliable, and this reliability would be assessed based on compliance with the provisions of the Act.

In addition, the operator should have paid its taxes and charges properly and be in the financial position to organise its business activities. Obligation compliance reports produced by the Tax Administration and its Grey Economy Information Unit can be used to assess reliability.

If the operator is not reliable, it could not invite pickers to Finland, offer them accommodation or equipment with the aim of purchasing natural products picked by them. The Act would not otherwise affect the status or obligations of those purchasing natural products from pickers.

Occupational safety

The occupational safety and health authorities would monitor compliance with the Act insofar as the monitoring is not the responsibility of another competent authority. The Employment and Economic Development Offices and the occupational safety and health authorities would be responsible for guidance.

The Act does not apply to the entry or residence conditions of foreigners picking natural products. The Act would apply when the work is not carried out in an employment relationship.

In the case of work carried out in an employment relationship, employment legislation would apply as before. 

The changes are scheduled to enter into force before the start of the harvest season of 2021.