Some Estonian workers on Finnish construction sites are the victims of work-related trafficking, according to YLE's current affairs programme Silminnäkijä (Eyewitness). Investigative journalists found evidence that dozens of Estonian staffing agencies are defrauding workers they send to Finland.
Crooked agencies typically promise Estonian builders wages on par with those paid in Finland. But in reality, deals with Finnish employers are only for the Estonian minimum wage. Sometimes Estonian workers receive no pay for months.
Sirje Blumberg of Estonian human rights group Living for Tomorrow says Estonia lacks legislation on work-related trafficking, making it difficult for perpetrators to be held accountable.
“In Estonia, only prostitution is understood as human trafficking,” says Blumberg.
“Last month’s salary for boss”
According to Blumberg, the situation has been deteriorating since Estonia’s economy tanked in 2008. The problem is likely to be widespread, as only a fraction of forced labour cases reach officials.
“A common practice is that the final month’s salary goes to the boss,” says Matti Venela, who says he is still owed 24,000 euros from a construction job in Kerava, some 30 kilometres north of Helsinki.
To help combat abuse in the construction sector, Finland is introducing a new tax number system. From next year, construction workers will need to wear a badge featuring their own personal Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) to gain access to building sites.