TALLINN - Finland took a gigantic step toward deregulating its labor markets on Feb. 13 when the Labor Ministry vetoed extending restrictions on the free movement of workers from newer EU member states.
The decision, made by a working group composed of ministry officials, businessmen and trade union representatives, still needs to be approved by the government and Parliament.
Labor Minister Tarja Filatov said that withdrawing barriers for Eastern European migrant workers would help Finnish authorities cope with businesses using so-called "posted" workers who are paid less than Finnish employees. Under the current system she said it was difficult to keep track of how many foreign workers were employed on Finnish soil.
"It would be easier to supervise the labor market, where people have a direct employment relationship with the Finnish employer," Filatov was quoted as saying. "Supervision is important for the equality of the workers and for the fair competition of enterprises."
The decision comes just days after a passionate appeal by the European Commission last week, which issued a report praising three EU countries for opening their labor markets and appealing to other members to follow suit. (See story on Page 16.)
Estonia's Foreign Ministry welcomed Finland's decision not to extend the restrictions, which were put in place when the EU expanded on May 1, 2004.
"Next to the free movement of goods and capital, free movement of labor is one of the basic liberties of the EU. It's fine that this freedom will now expand to Estonians in Finland," Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said.
"The lifting of restrictions has, above all, an emotional significance to us," he added.
As time has shown, the influx of Estonian workers to countries that opened their doors to EU newcomers in 2004 has not been significant, the minister observed.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip on Feb. 13 criticized the restrictions most older member states have on the free movement of labor, going so far as to suggest that by doing so they have played into the hands of organized crime.
"I wouldn't restrict the term human trafficking just to prostitution," Ansip said when answering opposition MPs' questions in Parliament. He added that human trafficking was a much broader term, and taking new shape all the time.
As an example, he mentioned the illegal mediation of labor and compelling a person to work, adding that these phenomena have been seen in the mediation of labor to Finland.
"I'm not saying that this is human trafficking in the strict sense of the word, but certain indications of criminal offense have been observed in the labor mediation here in many, many cases," Ansip said. "Where there are no restrictions on the free movement of labor, there are no criminal mediators."
"I have met with my Finnish colleague, we have reached more or less the same conclusions, and I hope that Finland will lift restrictions on the free movement of labor and we will no longer need these self-proclaimed mediators of labor to Finland," the PM told lawmakers.
Britain, Ireland and Sweden are the only three out of 15 older member states that have an open-door policy for migrant labor from the eight East European member states.