Working in Finland

Salaries in Finland, part II: a focused look

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In our blog last week, we looked at salaries in Finland in certain common professions in the public and private sectors. We also talked about salary levels in certain education categories. This week we’ll first look at professions that are common in the Finnish population that has a foreign background. Then we’ll look at the salary levels in those professions. 

In this blog post, we use the Statistics Finland definition of what having a foreign background means. Statistics Finland classifies a person whose parents or whose only known parent was born outside of Finland as having a foreign background (ulkomaalaistaustainen). This classification thus also includes people who have been born in Finland if their parents were not. Let’s take a closer look at that segment of the Finnish population before we get into the salary data. 

Quickly about the Finnish population with a foreign background

In 2019, there were about 423 000 people in Finland who fit this description. 83 % of them had themselves born outside of Finland. 17 %, in turn, were born in Finland. 

In the last 30 years, the number of persons having a foreign background has gone up from about 37 500 in 1990 to the 423 000 in 2019. In 1990, 12,8 % of people with this background had been born in Finland. 

The largest group within these are people who themselves or whose parents were born in the former Soviet Union. There are about 79 100 people in Finland with this background. About 15 % of them have actually been born in Finland. The next largest groups are those who themselves or whose parents were born in Estonia, Iraq, or Somalia. 

The proportion of persons who have been born in Finland varies in these groups. For example, relatively few classified in the Estonian group have been born in Finland (ca. 13 %) compared with those classified in the Somali group (40 %). These differences are related to the immigration history of these different groups. But that issue is outside the topic of this current blog post.

Pasi Saukkonen reminds us that we shouldn’t conflate the country of birth with ethnic, linguistic, or religious backgrounds in these stats. For example, those recorded as having been born in Estonia can in fact either be Estonian or Russian speakers. People recorded as having been born in the former Soviet Union, in turn, can fall into a myriad of linguistic, ethnic, and religious groups. Thus when reading these statistics, one should note that they record the birth country and not the ethnic, linguistic, or religious background of the people in question.

Note also that these statistics only include people who are residents of Finland. People who are here for shorter periods of time or don’t have Finnish residency for other reasons are not included in these statistics.

With these caveats in mind let’s now look at professions that are common for Finnish residents that have a foreign background and at the salaries of those professions. 

What professions are common?

In a publication from 2015, Hanna Sutela looked at the employment characteristics of Finnish residents with a foreign background in 2014. She found that in many respects they worked in similarly varied professions as employees with a Finnish background. Mostly, their distribution into different professions didn’t vary much from that of employees with a Finnish background. Nevertheless, there were some differences. 

Compared with employees with a Finnish background, those with a foreign background worked less often in specialist professions and in office jobs. More often than employees with a Finnish background, they worked in service professions.

Men with foreign backgrounds were clearly overrepresented in cleaning professions and in assisting jobs in the food industry. 

A review published by Statistics Finland in 2018, looked at the most common professions of Finnish residents with a foreign background in 2016. So, a couple of years after that of Hanna Sutela’s.

In 2016, the 10 most common professions were office cleaners, builders, salespeople, cooks, healthcare workers, waiters, warehouse workers, shift managers and managers in the restaurant industry, bus and tram drivers, and those in assisting jobs in commercial kitchens. 

The most common senior specialist professions in 2016 for them were jobs in IT systems and technical sectors. Or jobs in higher education or in healthcare as doctors. 

In 2016, residents with a foreign background were overrepresented, for example, in the building and manufacturing, service professions, and in sales. They were also overrepresented in the so-called “other” category that includes, for example, cleaning personnel, people in the hauling business, assistant workers in the healthcare industry, and delivery personnel.

It would be a whole other blog (or blog series) to discuss why this overrepresentation exists and what it means. And there is a fair amount of research to fuel those blogs. But we’ll leave this for now and look at median salary levels in these professions.

Salary levels in Finland in these common professions

In our blog last week, we told you that Statistics Finland has a database that one can use to check the salary levels of specific professions both in the private and public sectors. We’ll do that here for the 10 professions we mentioned above. We’ll also look at the median salary levels of those senior specialist professions we mentioned. 

The chart above gives you an impression of the salary levels in these professions. However, this is not a very accurate picture of the median salaries of these professions. For some, we had to include a larger group of employees to get a salary figure at all. The builder group in the private sector here also includes carpenters and other builders. Bus and tram drivers in the private sector actually also include other types of drivers as well. The public sector figure, however, includes only bus and tram drivers. Thus the difference in public and private sector salaries for these groups may not be accurate.

All of these professions had median salaries below the median of Finnish salaries in general. The sole exception here is the median salary of private sector salespeople. Their median salary is exactly the same as the median of all private-sector salaries in Finland. Thus, the 9 out of the 10 most common professions for Finnish residents with a foreign background are professions with low median salaries.

Now, let’s take a look at the median salary levels of the specialist positions we mentioned: 

The mean salary for all of these specialists is higher than the general Finnish median salary. However, this doesn’t guarantee that employees with a foreign background have an equal footing in the job market. Foreign doctors, for example, tend to work in basic healthcare in the public sector more often than their Finnish counterparts. There, the earnings are lower than in the private section. This concentration is at least partly due to the demands of the Finnish qualification process.

What is the right salary for your job?

Previously, we’ve talked about discrimination in the Finnish job market. In that blog post, we talked about discrimination in recruitment. This blog post, in turn, highlighted how the most common professions of Finnish residents with a foreign background tend to be those with low median salaries. What we haven’t yet discussed, is actual wage discrimination. We’ll get to that in a later blog this fall.

In the meantime, here are a few tips to ensure that you are being paid what you should be paid:

As we explained in our previous blog post, salary levels in different industries are determined by collective agreements. Both the public and the private sector fall under several different collective agreements. Thus the profession with the same name within a sector may have different salary levels based on the applicable collective agreement.

When you are negotiating your employment contract, these salary databases by Statistics Finland can be useful. They can give you an idea of what you should be paid. You shouldn’t, however, rely on these alone. Knowing which collective agreement will apply to you and checking the salary levels from there is the best way. Trade unions can assist you in this.

These databases, however, are handy when you are applying for a job. At that stage, it’s often difficult to know which collective agreement would be appropriate to use as a reference. Information in these databases will give you an idea of what to ask for in your application or during an interview.

If you want to learn more about the Finnish employment relationships, we have an extensive self-guided online course Working in Finland available for enrollment. If you want to take a quick, but extremely useful look at just Finnish employment contracts we have an inexpensive mini-course just for that.

The mission of Finnwards is to help you build a uniquely Finnish life for yourself and your family. Our online tutorials will give you the information and tools to you need to succeed in your professional and private life in Finland: https://school.finnwards.com/

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