The entry of foreign seasonal labor into Finland has been blocked due to the coronavirus. However, the government has decided that Finland will receive about 1,500 seasonal agricultural workers critical to security of supply. Most were expected to come from Ukraine, but so far they have arrived only by air.
After the Ukrainians, the largest planned group of seasonal workers would have been Russians, but now they too cannot leave their homeland.
In the spring, seasonal workers are needed for planting. Later in the summer and fall, it is the turn of the labor-intensive harvest. There should be 15,000 more seasonal workers on top of the 1,500 already decided.
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The situation of the seasonal workforce now looks very weak, says Reijo Laitinen, an entrepreneur at Aution Marjatila in Suonenjoki. Several varieties of strawberry, blueberry and raspberry are grown on Laitinen's farm.
- Of the 1,500 aligned foreign seasonal workers, we applied for fourteen nursing jobs, but received four. Now that, too, is completely pushing for Ukraine to close the doors, Laitinen says.
There is also a strange lack of domestic labor available, he says. The fact that Suonenjoki is located further away from large population centers does not make things easier.
- If there is a domestic workforce, then only when schools run out. We have tried to catch it and the TE Office website has already had a job open for a month, but there have been few contacts. There are so few people in our villages and the majority of the population is old, so that also makes it harder.
The almost non-existent availability of seasonal workers threatens to turn Autio Marjatila into a disaster of the year.
Photo: Timo Hartikainen
Normally, Aution Marjatila employs about 100 seasonal workers. They come mainly from Ukraine and Udmurtia and Mari in central Russia. Most of these seasonal berry pickers have been on Autio’s farm for seasonal work for a long time, year after year. Turnover has been very low.
Laitinen says that seasonal work, ie spring nursing work and summer harvesting, would preferably be done with the same people as before. They are already familiar with house habits and work tasks, and there is no need for familiarization.
Although the job - picking a strawberry - is not rocket science, it still has its own nicks and practices that a new employee must adopt.
- This can be compared to just about any company. The regular population is a completely different matter than changing the workforce every two weeks.
Reijo Laitinen says that nursing work cannot be omitted if berries are still wanted next year.
Photo: Timo Hartikainen
The almost non-existent availability of seasonal workers threatens to turn Autio Marjatila into a disaster of the year. Laitinen says that nursing work cannot be omitted if berries are still wanted next year. This incurs costs and the strawberry seedlings have already been ordered last autumn.
On the revenue side, the situation is uncertain. At the height of the Suonenjoki River, the picking period usually begins with the knowledge of Midsummer, sometimes rarely until the beginning of July. If there are no pickers, the berry farm will be completely devoid of income.
- If we only get a part of the employees, then we have to choose the easiest picking blocks. The rest of the berries are left in the field, that’s a nasty fact. Financially, it is a complete disaster, Laitinen says.