A third of construction workers in Helsinki region are from abroad
Estonians remain largest group
Construction workers at the site of the main building of the Aalto University greet each other in Finnish. However, many foreign faces look out from under the protective headgear.
Ari Tikka, the foreman at the site, calculates that a total of 205 workers have been working on the refurbishment project. They include 110 Finns, 63 Estonians, 11 Nigerians, seven Poles, and four Russians. There are also Kosovars, Albanians, Gambians, Afghanis, Somalis, and even one worker from Sweden.
One in three workers at construction sites in the Helsinki region are from abroad. Construction companies estimate that there are nearly 30,000 foreigners working in construction, and the number is growing constantly.
The foreign labour is sorely needed. Each year about 5,000 construction workers in Finland retire, and unemployment in the field has plummeted.
Tarmo Pipatti, managing director of the Confederation of Finnish Construction Industries (RT), says that without foreigners, the industry could not cope – especially in the Helsinki region.
The surge of foreigners in Finland’s construction industry began in 2007. Since then the number of newcomers has tripled.
Estonians are the largest group at the building sites, And their exodus is being felt in Estonia. Statistics indicate that the number of construction workers in Estonia has declined from 92,000 in 2007 to 41,000 today.
Pipatti says that the overwhelming majority of Estonian construction workers who have left the country have come to Finland.
At the Aalto University construction site, head carpenter Kalvi Arumäki, 59, came to Finland to work in 2001, and has been here ever since.
Although the site is contracted to the large building company NCC, Arumäki’s wages are paid by his son, who is a subcontractor for NCC. The son set up a company in Finland, and consequently, the taxes are paid to Finland.
There are fears in the Finnish construction industry that the flow of Estonian labour might slow down as economic growth in Estonia spurs construction in that country.
Arumäki nevertheless plans to stay in Finland until he retires. “It depends on how my physical condition holds up.”
If more foreign labour needs to be recruited for construction in Finland, the workers are likely to be found in Bulgaria, Romania, and Belarus.
Immigrants already in Finland are also taking on construction work. African immigrants constitute one of the largest groups at the Aalto University site.
Njui Enow Margaret, 33, fled her home in Cameroon nearly two years ago. Now she works as a construction site cleaner. After getting her residence permit, she contacted Somali-born Abdi Osman.
“I heard that Osman is a good man, and that he appreciates diligent workers.”
Osman runs a labour exchange company called Horn Afrik, which specialises in finding good jobs for immigrants.
“I have seen what happens to immigrants if civil servants make them fill KELA forms of different colours, he says. “I prefer to have them fill out a labour contract and a tax form and put them to work.”
Osman himself came to Finland as a refugee in the early 1990s. Now he has more than 50 immigrants on his payroll.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Estonians now Finland’s largest immigrant group (28.2.2011)
Foreign workers at nuclear construction site live isolated lives (31.8.2010)
Concerns about undocumented labour in construction industry (12.4.2010)
Help from across the Gulf of Finland (20.9.2011)
Number of foreign construction workers in Finland soon over 10,000 (25.5.2004)