Skip to content

Report: Regulatory changes needed to improve the status of wild berry pickers from abroad

Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment
Publication date 6.5.2024 12.01
Press release

In its current form, the status of foreign wild berry pickers involves significant risks. To support political decision-making, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment commissioned a study on the economic impacts of different solutions. A working group of the Ministry has also produced an additional impact assessment of the options.

A study by Pellervo Economic Research and the University of Vaasa evaluated the economic impacts that two different regulatory options would have on foreigners picking wild berries, wild berry companies and public finances in Finland. The options are that pickers coming to Finland would either have a contractual employment relationship based on seasonal work or that they would work independently as self-employed persons.

According to the report, amending the legal provisions on the wild berry sector is justified in order to minimise the shortcomings in the sector. Seasonal work based on an employment contract appears a more realistic option than self-employment.

“For pickers who do not know Finnish and come from very different cultural environments working as self-employed persons would be cumbersome and inefficient in terms of costs. In practice, pickers would not be able to fulfil their statutory obligations. The pickers would still be dependent on the wild berry companies, because they would have to conclude contracts with the to sell the berries,” says Henna Busk, Senior Economist at Pellervo Economic Research.

The report will support political decision-making on the alternative models. The Government will decide on further preparation later. The changes are intended to take effect for the harvest season of 2025.

Economic impacts on all parties

According to the report, a contractual employment relationship would provide pickers with the benefits of such a relationship and the security of a minimum wage. However, the change would not necessarily result in an increased income for all berry pickers. Nor would it prevent the indebtedness caused by travel expenses in the country of origin.

Contractual employment relationships and the related obligations of employers would lead to higher costs for berry companies. Some companies would have to change their operations and others might have to withdraw from the market. Rising costs would put upward pressure on the prices of domestic wild berries. However, contractual employment relationships of berry pickers are not expected to have any significant impact on general government finances.

The report recommends that further preparation involve operators in the sector and that employees and employers receive the guidance and advice they need. Operators and authorities in the sector were widely interviewed for the report.

Picking should not be equated with tourism in future

A working group of the Ministry has produced an additional impact assessment of the options to support decision-making. The working group emphasises that in future the pickers’ entry into Finland should be based on either a contractual employment relationship or self-employment. Consequently, picking could not be equated with tourism in the future. In addition to legislative amendments, both increased responsibility of the sector and cooperation between the authorities are required to solve the problems in the sector. 

The option of a contractual employment relationship means that picking wild produce would be included in the scope of application of the Seasonal Workers Act. According to the working group, the most obvious advantage of the option of contractual employment relationships would be that the general rules of labour legislation would apply and that the occupational safety and health enforcement could tackle any shortcomings. 

The development of the Berry Act and the entry of pickers into Finland as self-employed persons would be a lesser change in the practices of berry companies and involve smaller costs for them. However, the working group points out, similarly to the Pellervo report, that it is uncertain whether pickers would in practice be able to meet the obligations related to self-employment.

It would also be possible to combine these two options, i.e. the picker’s entry would be based on either an employment relationship or self-employment on a case-by-case basis. In any event, berry companies could continue to utilise the labour input of pickers who are staying in Finland on grounds other than those related to picking.

Reports driven by problems in berry pickers’ working conditions and earnings

In Finland, the picking of wild berries is strongly dependent on foreign labour, especially pickers invited and recruited from Thailand. Until now, pickers have come to Finland with a Schengen tourist visa, which allows them to stay and pick berries in Finland for a maximum of three months. 

Problems related to the working conditions and earnings of berry pickers have become more widely known over the past 10 years. Widespread suspicions and charges of human trafficking emerged in the sector in 2022 and 2023. Due to these problems, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs suspended the reception of visa applications of wild berry pickers from Thailand in March 2024. A sustainable solution is needed for the entry of berry pickers from the 2025 harvest season onwards.

Henna Busk, Senior Economist, Pellervo Economic Research, tel. +358 40 164 8136, [email protected]  
Katri Niskanen, Chief Specialist, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, tel. +358 29 504