Integration is challenged by the wave of immigrants and lack of State funding

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“The earlier we create good relationships with newcomers to Finland, the more likely it is that they will become members of the unions and active participants in union activities”, says Student and Youth Delegate for Akava Special Branches Amalia Ojanen.

Akava Special Branches and the EKKOL union formed within the Trade Union of Education in Finland (OAJ) encourage the advocates for the highly educated to get involved at the initial phases of integration.

Heikki Taulu, Immigration Policy Expert at Akava, would like to see highly educated immigrants find their place in society as quickly as possible.

He expressed his belief that neither immigrants who come to the country on humanitarian grounds nor those who come seeking work pose a threat to the position of highly educated Finns in the labour market. Rather, he sees that they bring new possibilities to the market.

“In the long run, internationalisation will have a positive impact on our society. At the moment, anyone who is unemployed, despite being highly educated, is finding it difficult to get a job, but the economy will, at some point, begin to pick up again and the situation will change.”

Taulu doesn’t see any significant deficiencies in the Finnish integration system, but he is concerned about the sufficiency of resources as the volume of asylum seekers is growing well beyond the estimated and budgeted numbers.

“It is a challenging situation since the swell of immigration coincides with the current lack of State funding.”

As one of the integration partners of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, Akava is committed to promoting the integration of highly educated immigrants into Finnish working life.

“We encourage our affiliates to take part, to the best of their individual capacities, in concrete measures related to the integration processes,” Taulu adds.

Foreign teachers established their own union

One example of the immigration activities of the Akava unions is the 2008 foundation of the EKKOL union (Union of teachers with different linguistic and cultural backgrounds).

The Union is chaired by Zofia Bazia-Hietikko, teacher of Physics and Chemistry at KPEDU (Federation of Education in Central Ostrobothnia), who explains that EKKOL helps respond to any work-related issues raised by newly immigrated colleagues.

“Even though the work of teachers is, in principle, the same all over the world, the related practices are different. When an immigrant teacher is unable to understand something that is obvious to a native Finn, that teacher simply needs to contact us and we, as long-term residents of Finland, do all we can to help.”
Bazia-Hietikko is also pleased that Finnish organisations have been turning to the EKKOL when they need the perspective of teachers with foreign backgrounds. As an example, she mentions the various statements and presentations that the authorities and teacher training institutions have requested.

Bazia-Hietikko expresses her gratitude to OAJ which, among other things, helped the union deal with establishment bureaucracy and form connections with colleagues working all around the country.
“It’s also wonderful that we can gather at OAJ’s premises in Helsinki.”

Akava Special Branches extends an invitation

About one year ago, Amalia Ojanen, Student and Youth Delegate for Akava Special Branches, undertook to host some integration groups at the Helsinki Institute of Adult Education. Ojanen organises a half-day information event for highly educated immigrants four times during the year. These events provide attendees with information about the Finnish labour market system and the process of job seeking.

“There is an increasing need for these types of activities as the wave of immigration swells in Finland. I can assure you that both the organisers and participants are in great spirits after each gathering. As the highly educated take their first steps into the Finnish labour market, they gain an understanding of the game rules associated with working life here and we gain an understanding of their individual situations and needs,” says Ojanen.

She hopes that the example set by Akava Special Branches will encourage other Akava unions to initiate integration activities at the grass roots level.

“That’s the key to advancing the success of immigrants in Finnish working life and creating, at the same time, a future for professional trade union activities. The earlier we create good relationships with newcomers to Finland, the more likely it is that they will become members of the unions and active participants in union activities.”

  • Text: Paula Launonen
  • Photo: Lehtikuva

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