THAILAND has demanded an explanation from Finnish authorities regarding a series of Covid outbreaks among Thai nationals working as berry pickers in Finland this summer, Yle News said in a report published on Wednesday August 18.
More than 200 of the pickers have been diagnosed with Covid since the beginning of August.
Meanwhile in Thailand there were 19,851 new coronavirus cases and 240 deaths today (August 20). Of these new cases 19,526 were among the general public and 325 in prisons or detention centres, Amarin TV said.
Cumulative confirmed total since April 1 has now reached 980,847 and since the start of the pandemic 1,009,734.
Another 20,478 patients have been cured taking total recoveries since April 1 to 768,379 while 205,079 are still undergoing treatment.
Today’s 240 fatalities raises the death toll since the start of the pandemci to 8,826 and in the current wave 8,732.
On Tuesday, it was reported that berry companies Arctic International and Polarica transported at least 260 foreign berry pickers from Lapland to eastern Finland even though most of them were infected by or exposed to coronavirus.
In response to the ongoing situation, Thailand’s Ambassador to Finland, Chavanart Thangsumphant, said that the berry picking firms which hired Thai pickers signed an agreement that they would protect their health amid the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.
The agreement was intended to safeguard the pickers, who are not regarded as employees under Finnish law and therefore don’t get many of the protections due to those in an employment relationship.
“We are now waiting for authorities to find out whether the companies fully and properly complied with the agreement’s conditions or not,” Chavanart said.
The terms of the agreement oblige the berry companies to take care of the pickers, as well as provide appropriate treatment and compensation if they do get Covid. The terms also spell out conditions regarding companies’ obligations to provide health insurance, accommodation and transportation.
The agreement also stipulates that pickers need to be paid compensation if they are ordered into quarantine and obliges firms to pay out compensation if a picker dies of the disease while in Finland.
According to the contract, companies are compelled to pay the equivalent of roughly 25,500 euros to a picker’s family in the event of their Covid-related death.
Freelancers vs employees
Chavanart said Thailand hopes Finnish berry companies would recognise their hired pickers as employees, thus granting them rights in line with local employment laws.
“In this way, pickers could be guaranteed fair and equal rights to, among other things, well-being and health, similar to the rights that Finnish workers have,” Chavanart said.
Rules and regulations
Some of the coronavirus outbreaks took place in Lapland, and the region’s State Administrative Agency (Avi) plans to investigate safety-related measures carried out at berry picking outfits, according to the agency’s local chief physician, Sari Kemppainen.
She said that the Avi was under the impression that the berry companies had jointly planned with the Lapland Hospital District about how to handle the pickers once they arrived in the country.
“Those kinds of guidelines were prepared and issued by the THL (the Institute for Health and Welfare) and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment. The responsibility for carrying out the guidelines belongs to the berry companies,” Kemppainen explained.
THL Senior Expert Jari Jalava said that laws should address the conditions under which workers are brought to the country. Health authorities are unable to intervene and the Communicable Diseases act does not address the matter.
Coronavirus infection clusters began to spread rapidly among berry pickers at the beginning of this month, despite the fact that the workers were tested when they arrived in Finland.
Earlier this week, chief infectious diseases doctor of the Lapland Hospital District, Markku Broas, noted that quarantine rules and the Communicable Diseases Act were violated during the transfer of ill workers to Kainuu and North Karelia.
Broas said that he suspected the root cause of the infection clusters were due to Covid tests being taken as the workers arrived in Finland. The tests did not immediately identify emerging infections, which resulted in a rapid spread of the virus among densely populated groups.
Top: Thai berry pickers at work in Kärsämäki, Finland, in September 2020. File photo: Paulus Markkula / Yle
Home Page: A migrant Thai worker picking berries in Scandinavia. Photo: Scandasia.com