THE SITUATION OF THAI BERRY PICKERS IN POSITIVE PROGRESS
While approaching new berry harvest season, it’s good to look back at season 2023, when the situation of foreign berry pickers was closely monitored by berry companies as well as by food industry, trade, and media.
Responsible berry purchasing is elementary for Kiantama. It is important to us that we are a reliable partner to both foreign berry pickers and our customers. We want to develop pickers’ conditions and the operations of the whole berry field to be more transparent.
For the season 2023 Kiantama didn’t invite any pickers to Finland. Instead, the pickers who picked berries for our company were invited by Finnish subcontractor companies. These subcontractors were responsible for the arrangements of the pickers’ stay and payment for the berries. Kiantama’s resources were focused on supervision and development of the operations:
- Our representant was present at the briefing and education events arranged for pickers in Thailand. This way we were able to ensure that correct information was shared with the pickers beforehand and note also issues for further development.
- We made 5 audits to picker accommodation places during the harvest season. In addition, our customers and co-operators had possibility to make their own audits. One customer audit was executed during the season.
- We set up a simple communication channel for the pickers, which enabled them to anonymously report possible defects directly to Kiantama. We recorded 28 messages from the total of 500 pickers.
It’s important to notice that every year most foreign pickers earn much more than the required minimum earning. During harvest season 2023 the average gross earning of the pickers was appr. 7 000 €. Majority of the pickers return year after year, as they have been satisfied with berry picking, their earnings, and conditions in Finland.
Perspectives for the coming harvest season
Kiantama has been actively participating in the overall development of the procedures in the berry picking field:
- We have been proposing the authorities to raise the Schengen visa requirement for minimum daily earning, to ensure better earnings for the pickers despite the amount of the berries picked. At the moment it seems that the change in Schengen visa requirement, valid from 1st January 2024, would also be applied to the picking of the wild forest berries. This means that the minimum earning requirement would be 50 €/day instead of earlier 30 €/day.
- We think that the proposal of establishing employment relationship between berry companies and the pickers would be a positive step. It would make the status of both berry companies and pickers clearer in the future. However, the collective agreement must then consider the special features of the wild berry picking. Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment in Finland will make future decisions based on the investigation currently running.
- It has also been proposed to adapt the Employer pays principle (EPP), where the inviting berry company covers part of the picker’s travel costs. This would require changes in the so-called berry law, to bound the picker to sell the berries to the inviting company.
As part of the proposed renovations require legislative changes, it will take time to adapt these. Thus, we expect some of these new practices to be taken into action during harvest season 2025 at the earliest.
There will surely be changes for the coming picking season as well. These will be specified during the spring. There will be more discussion and co-ordinated actions between berry companies, authorities, industry, and trade in order to develop the responsible berry picking. To start with, there will be a common event arranged by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry on 26th February.
It is important to ensure that no one picker experiences deprivation or misleading and that all foreign pickers have realistic understanding of the work and working conditions before they leave for Finland.
The berry industry will need berry pickers also in the future. Through good co-operation between berry companies and the authorities we can make sure that there will be positive progress towards more responsible berry picking.