Finnish strawberry growers prefer foreign berry pickers
"Finns have no stamina for job and stay at home when it rains"
For the upcoming strawberry season, Finnish strawberry growers will be accepting mainly foreign berry pickers on their farms. For example, a total of about 4,000 strawberry pickers will arrive in Suonenjoki from the neighbourhood of Petrozavodsk in the Äänisenranta region of Russian Karelia in order to pick strawberries. About 15 per cent of the entire strawberry cultivation area in Finland is found in the surroundings of Suonenjoki.
On Monday, Olavi Ruotsalainen, the City Manager of Suonenjoki, returned from Äänisenranta, which is Suonenjoki’s twin-town in Russia and where he had been recruiting strawberry pickers for the forthcoming season.
The city of Suonenjoki keeps close contact with Russian authorities, in order that the strawberry growers will have a sufficient number of berry pickers when the time arrives.
It is well-known in Suonenjoki that Finnish young people do not want to pick berries, even if it were the only work available.
"Berry-picking is not very trendy", notes Ruotsalainen.
Around two hundred Russian berry pickers have already arrived at farms in Suonenjoki. The majority of the pickers will arrive in two weeks when strawberries start to become ripe.
Only very young Finnish pickers are available these days, report both Ruotsalainen and strawberry-grower Yrjö Rossi from Espoo. Both of them also regret that Finns cannot work as hard as they should and that they are not committed to their work. They might even stay home when it rains.
According to Rossi, his enterprise lost around EUR 160,000 in 2000, when Finnish pickers could not pick enough berries, and part of the harvest ended up rotting.
The berries must get picked, regardless of the weather, and this season the strawberries at Rossi’s farm will be picked by Ukrainians, with payment according to the amount picked.
Finnish workers at the Rossi farm handle orders, supervise those who come to pick berries for themselves, and work as cashiers. They are paid by the hour.
The Ukrainian pickers are offered accommodation for which they pay EUR 3.00 per night. The price does not include meals.
"”Today, the Embassy of Ukraine is very strict about the arrangements, and we are under contract to provide certain facilities", said Rossi.
Until fairly recently, Rossi had also used Estonian pickers doing piece-work, but the improved job market in Estonia has deflated their interest.
Ukrainian Jana Sidorenko was weeding strawberry beds with some twenty other Ukrainians at the Rossi farm on Monday. This is her second summer at the Rossi farm, and she says that she is satisfied with the work, wages, and circumstances.
The pickers live in double rooms in Espoo’s Kauklahti district and buy their food at Lidl.
The pickers are paid a contract rate according to the collective labour agreement for rural areas. In Suonenjoki the average wages work out to about EUR 7.00 per hour, according to Ruotsalainen.
At the Rossi farm in Espoo, a swift picker can gather more than 200 kilos of strawberries a day. Over the short hectic season, a berry picker can earn about EUR 1,500 to 3,000, Rossi calculates.
The City of Suonenjoki would like the berry pickers to become interested in the town and in Finland even more seriously, Ruotsalainen reveals. Many of them are university students or graduates of some institute and could stay even permanently in Finland.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Bulk of summer strawberry pickers will come from abroad (23.4.2007)
Strawberry cultivation in Suonenjoki