Estonian construction workers returning from Finland due to lack of work

Construction workers in Estonia. (Photo is illustrative).
Construction workers in Estonia. (Photo is illustrative). Source: Rene Suurkaev/ERR

Estonian construction workers have become too expensive for Finnish companies to employ. There is no longer a need in Finland for low-skilled builders, and unemployment among construction workers is increasing in both Estonia and Finland.

In the second quarter (Q2) of 2023, Estonian construction companies built 12 percent less at constant prices than during the same period last year.

According to Anniki Paulus, head of the jobseekers' services department at the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund (Töötukassa), the data shows that more people in the construction sector have registered as unemployed this year than in the previous two years

"This year, there have been around 9,000 people. Last year the numbers were at around 7,200. And it can also be said that the number of construction jobs on offer is lower this year than for the two previous years," Paulus said.

With Finland's construction sector also in serious crisis, there is little hope of work there either.

Urmet Aru, head of the Uusimaa branch of the Finnish Construction Trade Union, said that the proportion of Estonians working in the Finnish construction sector has decreased. "In Estonia, construction workers' wages have risen to a decent level. That's probably why so many people have gone back to their home country in recent years, because they have families there."

In the past, good will was often all that was needed for an Estonia to go to Finland and work in construction. However, nowadays, people without the required skills to begin with are no longer in great demand.

"With the current crisis in the construction sector, they are being screened out quite a lot - a lot of unskilled builders are out of work," Aru said. "In the peak days, you just needed workers to bill for every hour, so to speak. They were useful then, but now they're leaving top professionals who can work independently and do a productive job."

The Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund has also noticed an increase in the number of unemployed construction workers in Finland, who are have been on its register in recent months.

"People have come back from Finland and have also claimed unemployment insurance benefits from the Unemployment Insurance Fund," said Paulus. "While there are usually 60 cases a week, last week there were 90," she added.

However, a lot of people have already settled in Finland and are so are instead taking advantage of the Finnish employment services.

According to Aru, Estonian construction workers have already become too expensive for Finnish companies, who prefer to hire from outside the European Union. 

"I believe that Estonians will have work in Finland in the future, but the trend in the construction sector in recent years has indeed been to hire workers from further afield, from third countries. You hear a lot of Russian on sites and there are also a lot of workers from former countries in the former Yugoslavia in Finland," Aru explained.

Aru added that people are very adaptable. Whereas in the past, Finns would often pull the wool over the eyes of Estonia's so-called "Kalevipoegs" and not pay them for their work, now many Estonian construction workers have set up their own companies and are doing the same to others.

"I was just talking to an Estonian employer who joined a trade union a couple of years ago and highlighted a lot of the inefficiencies in his workplace. And now, over the last couple of years, he has become an entrepreneur himself and is acting in exactly the same way."


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Editor: Michael Cole

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