Difficult working conditions for foreign guides in Lapland | Polarjournal
Lapland’s snow-covered landscapes are increasingly popular among foreign tourists. The region offers an enchanting setting for guests from all over the world, but not always enviable working conditions for seasonal workers. Photo : Pixabay

Lack of rest time, training and equipment, working conditions can be difficult for foreign guides working in Lapland.

Life as a guide in Finnish Lapland isn’t easy. While the scenery is magnificent, the working conditions can quickly turn the experience into a nightmare. Non respected rest periods and working hours, rushed training, dilapidated equipment, low wages and housing shortages: working conditions are particularly complicated for foreign seasonal workers. At least, that’s what the Finnish service union PAM revealed in an article published on the national public broadcaster’s website on March 27, citing in particular failure to respect rest periods and lack of training.

On a number of occasions, the union has been informed of situations where the rest period between two periods of work was not respected, often falling well short of the eight hours stipulated by law. On top of this, there are more working hours than stipulated in the contract, and not always paid.

At the same time, workers regularly reported that training periods were very short. This is particularly the case with snowmobiles, where guides, often with no prior training in this type of engine, are sent out with a group of tourists shortly after receiving a brief instruction.

Being able to guide a group of tourists on snowmobiles (as here in Svalbard) is not something to be improvised. Solid training is essential to ensure the safety of the group and a positive experience for everyone. Photo: Heiner Kubny

Last February, a foreign guide was killed during a 40 km snowmobile safari in the Rovaniemi region. She had crashed her vehicle into a tree just a few months into her season. This tragic event was blamed on negligence on the part of the employee, according to an investigation carried out by the Regional State Administrative Agency, Avi.

Another frequently reported phenomenon is the poor condition of equipment. Between breathless snowmobiles and worn tires, the equipment used by the guides is often outdated. While most companies are making efforts to solve these problems, others are conspicuous by their indifference. “It’s an ongoing phenomenon. There may be a complaint about some company, after which the matter is fixed immediately. But there are also places where this is a persistent phenomenon, where things don’t get better even after years”, told Finnish broadcaster Yle, Henna-Kaisa Turpeinen, the service union PAM’s regional manager for Lapland.

In addition to employment problems, foreign guides and workers also face other difficulties, such as finding accommodation. Seasonal workers are struggling to find an apartment in towns where there is already a housing shortage, such as Rovaniemi or Inari, which needs around a hundred more units. As a result, prices are skyrocketing and employees are often forced to share accommodation with several flatmates.

The precariousness of jobs in the tourism sector, particularly for foreign workers, is no secret. The problem regularly makes the headlines in local newspapers, and extends beyond the tourism sector itself. Last June, a report by the Finnish Occupational Safety and Health Administration revealed numerous shortcomings in the application of minimum employment conditions for foreign workers in various professional sectors.

As far as tourism is concerned, it’s doing rather well in Lapland. Contributing almost 6% to GDP, Lapland’s tourism industry employs around 12,000 people during the peak winter season. Nearly half of these jobs are held by foreigners. These workers are not always aware of their rights in a country whose legislation they do not know. They often don’t know who to talk to, or are afraid of losing their job if they do. In an attempt to make up for the lack of information, the Ministry of the Interior has set up an application, “Work Help Finland”, which aims to provide information on the rights and duties of foreign employees. The application also provide information on who to contact in the event of problems or non-compliance with framework conditions on the part of the employer.

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

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