HS investigation reveals widespread mistreatment of cleaning staff

Prime Minister Sanna Marin reacts to the story and says that the situation in the labour market is "unsustainable when the exploitation of employees is so widespread and systematic."

File picture of someone washing windows / Credit: iStock

A lengthy investigation by Helsingin Sanomat has uncovered widespread mistreatment of cleaning staff who are low paid, and often asylum seekers or new immigrants hoping to use their jobs to stay permanently in Finland.

The newspaper exposed multiple cases where workers were poorly paid; had salaries withheld for spurious reasons; where they were physically and verbally abused; made to work long hours but only paid for part of their shifts; forced to sleep on the floor in the places they cleaned; and were threatened about not speaking to police or immigration officials.

The story also highlights how public authorities, like the City of Espoo, repeatedly awarded cleaning contracts to the companies which exploited the workers, despite a litany of complaints against them and where it was clear the company could not be paying the workers well for the price of the contract.

Staff also told how they felt abandoned by unions, police and other officials when they tried to complain about their pay and working conditions, doing shifts cleaning schools, kindergartens, restaurants, supermarkets, offices and shopping malls.

On Sunday Finland’s Minister for Employment Tuula Haatainen (SDP) reacted to the newspaper investigation, saying that exploitation has started to take root in a number of different sectors.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) also described the situation in the labour market as “unsustainable when the exploitation of employees is so widespread and systematic.”

In the spring Minister Haatainen set up a working group to look into the exploitation of foreign workers after a previous Helsingin Sanomat investigation into the plight of Nepalese nationals trafficked to Finland to work in restaurants.

“In municipal and state public procurement, monitoring needs to be better and more effective” Haatainen tells the newspaper, noting that cleaning services cannot be contracted just because they are cheap, and if it is obvious the work cannot be carried out at that price if staff were legally paid.

The story is available to read in English here free of charge.