Finnish Trade Union Responses to Labour Migration
Social Policy University of Turku Helsinki, Finland
It is often stated that the position of trade unions vis-à-vis immigration is ambivalent. On the one hand, unions world-wide have expressed solidarity with migrant workers and defended their labour and social rights, and made efforts towards their social integration. On the other hand, certain unions have seen immigration as an external element of competition for jobs and social services, and have therefore called for a protection of the domestic labour market.
With regards to the Finnish context, a measure to control and regulate immigration was the enforcement of a transitional period between 2004 and 2006, during which a work permit was required for EU-8 nationals in order to work in Finland. At the turn of the millennium Finland was a country of high unemployment, and there was a fear ? elaborated by the mass media ? of an exodus of workers from the neighbouring low-wage country Estonia to the Finnish labour market, in case Estonia joined the EU. The transition period was strongly rallied for by fractions of the Finnish trade union movement. Nevertheless, the transition period actually diminished state and union control regarding the labour market, and the consequences on the working conditions of individual migrants were in many cases harmful.
A more proactive response by the Finnish trade union movement to labour migration however, was the establishment of an information centre in the capital of Estonia in 2002. The rationale of the centre has been to inform prospective labour migrants from Estonia to Finland regarding working life in Finland, in order to prevent the use of Estonians for social dumping. My aim is to present these two union responses towards immigration, and argue that control and regulation should rather be put on working conditions of migrants than on cross-border mobility.