Thailand calls for responses to covid outbreaks from berry pickers | Yle Uutiset

File photo of Thai berry pickers at work in Kärsämäki in September 2020.

Image: Paulus Markkula / Yle

Thailand has requested a statement from the Finnish authorities regarding a number of Covid outbreaks among Thai nationals working as berry pickers in Finland this summer.

More than 200 pickers have been diagnosed with Covid since the beginning of August.

On Tuesday, berry companies Arctic International and Polarica were reported to have transported at least 260 foreign berry pickers from Lapland to eastern Finland, despite most of them having been infected or exposed to coronavirus.

In response to the ongoing situation, Thailand’s ambassador to Finland, Chavanart Thangsumphant, said the berry pickers who hired Thai pickers signed an agreement that they would protect their health amid the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.

The agreement was intended to protect the order pickers who are not considered employees under Finnish law and therefore do not enjoy many of the safeguards they are entitled to in an employment relationship.

“We are now waiting for the authorities to find out whether the companies have fully and properly complied with the terms of the agreement or not,” said Thangsumphant.

The terms of the agreement oblige the berry companies to look after the pickers and provide adequate treatment and compensation if they contract Covid. The terms also include terms on the companies’ obligation to provide health insurance, housing, and transportation.

The agreement also stipulates that pickers must be compensated if they are quarantined, and obliges companies to pay compensation if a picker in Finland dies of the disease.

According to the contract, companies are obliged to pay the equivalent of around 25,500 euros to a family of pickers in the event of their Covid death.

Freelancers vs. employees

Thangsumphant said Thailand hopes Finnish berry companies will recognize their hired pickers as employees, giving them rights in accordance with local labor laws.

“In this way, pickers could be guaranteed fair and equal rights to wellbeing and health, among other things, similar to the rights that Finnish workers have,” said Thangsumphant.

The ambassador also said Thailand wants to speed up the exchange of information with the Finnish authorities in cases where Thai workers have problems with their health or working conditions. Thangsumphant said the embassy hoped the Finnish Foreign Ministry would take swift action.

Thangsumphant noted that Thailand has been in contact with the Finnish authorities since the first Covid infections of the berry pickers were detected. The embassy has asked the Finnish authorities to investigate their living quarters in order to find out the reason for the outbreaks of infection.

The ambassador said she believed the authorities in Finland were doing their best to protect the berry pickers. She noted that in her opinion, the provision of the guarantees was necessary under Finnish law in order to prevent the exploitation of foreign workers.

Rules and regulations

Some of the coronavirus outbreaks have occurred in Lapland, and the region’s state administration agency (Avi) plans to investigate safety measures that have been taken on berry pickers, the agency’s local chief medical officer said. Sari Kemppainen.

She said Avi felt that the berry companies were working with the Lapland Hospital District to plan how the pickers should be handled after they arrived in the country.

“Such guidelines were drawn up and published by the THL (Institute for Health and Social Affairs) and the Ministry of Economics and Employment. The responsibility for implementing the guidelines rests with the berry companies, ”said Kemppainen.

Government advisor to the Department of Labor Olli Sorainen said the instructions to berry companies are clear, adding that companies also have a responsibility to ensure that pickers’ accommodations are safe and meet government standards.

Sorainen said Finland should consider changing these types of regulations to ensure the health and safety of workers.

“A separate project to monitor the working conditions of foreign workers by the authorities and possible sanctions for non-compliance is to be started in the fall,” said Sorainen.

THL senior expert Jari Jalava said laws should lay down the conditions under which workers are brought into the country. The health authorities cannot intervene and the Communicable Diseases Act does not deal with the matter.

Earlier this month, clusters of coronavirus infections began to spread rapidly among berry pickers, despite workers being tested upon arrival in Finland.

Earlier this week, Chief Infectious Disease Chief of the Lapland Hospital District, Markku Broas, found that the transfer of sick workers to Kainuu and North Karelia violated quarantine regulations and the Communicable Diseases Act.

Broas said he suspected that the cause of the clusters of infection was due to Covid tests that were carried out when workers arrived in Finland. The tests did not immediately identify emerging infections, resulting in the rapid spread of the virus among densely populated groups.

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