The gap between care and the provision of care in the field is global concern but also in the Finnish labor market debate. There is good employment in the care sector, but nevertheless Finnish nurses are interested in extensive labor markets and tendering for their own skills. With international recruitment, cross-border commuting reflects a change in the labor market and labor market citizenship, in which workers are active players and decision-makers. For Finnish nurses, the most attractive commuting country with good employee benefits is Norway, where working periods can be arranged from one week to several months.
Finland’s general cross-border migration has been the outflow of Finnish labor, and the benefit-cost ratio of migration movements has been negative over time. Finland’s largest migration waves have been a wave of migration to the United States in the early 20th century and Sweden in the late 1960s. In the 21st century, a smaller wave of migration was seen when a group of high-skilled nurses moved to Norway to get a job.
At the end of the 1990s, the Norwegian State recruited nurses from Finland, Germany and Poland through the Aetat Recruitment Program. This recruitment of nurses in poorer countries had to be abolished for ethical reasons in 2003. However, the recruitment did not stop, but private recruitment companies came to the Norwegian care market. These Norwegian recruitment companies were intended as a short-term solution to the shortage of labor in the care sector, but in 2020 there is still a number of private companies in Norway that will provide medical staff to Norway from countries they consider appropriate for the sector, mainly from other Nordic countries. The recruitment practice has enabled foreign nurses to participate in short-term commuting to and from Norway, and thus the international culture of cross-border commuting has also been opened up to Finnish nurses.
Finland’s previous migration movements have been strongly associated with structural reasons at macro level, such as unemployment and financial problems. At the turn of the 21st century, unemployed nurses who wanted to find employment in their own field went abroad. As employment improved, some nurses returned to Finland and emigration leveled for years. However, the search for the Norwegian care market now seems to be growing again, and the motives and meanings of work-related mobility are today micro level personal solutions. Work and career involve personal goals and dreams that you want to achieve. Some nurses commuter in Norway along with their own part-time work, but more and more nurses have left nursing in Finland and commute to Norway for work. Commuting is organized either by arranging an employment contract through a recruitment company or directly with a Norwegian employer. The most common employee benefits are free travel and housing, but other benefits can also be negotiated. Regions that find it difficult to gain employment offer the best employment benefits. Finnish nurses thus act as active negotiators in the Norwegian labor and care markets.
The Migration Movements of Finnish nurses are recorded, for example, by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL). THL receives statistical data from Valvira, which registers nurses who have moved abroad permanently. According to statistics, in 2000 there were about 600 nurses who left for Norway and in 2008 the figure had decreased by half. However, the statistics do not show nurses who commute abroad temporarily and whose country of residence is Finland. As a result, realistic figures for all Finnish nurses working in Norway are not available and work commuting has been underestimated as a phenomenon.
To date, research into the work-related movement of nurses has focused on more permanent migration from poorer countries towards welfare states, but the study on temporary work-related mobility between welfare states has been limited. However, the phenomenon of commuting for work has already been identified but has not yet been sufficiently defined or studied.
From the normal employment model towards transnational labor market citizenship
The key elements of working life for the individual are those who change the way an individual lives, the relationship between paid and non-paid employment, and, in general, the relationship between the individual and the labor market. Participation in the labor market is organized through different social models, which differ from one European country to another. Collectively, however, they are based on the idea of social and labor market citizenship, through which individuals attach themselves to the social partners. Studies on labor mobility have therefore introduced the concept of transnational labor market citizenship.
The mobility of nurses is a matter of reorganizing low and medium-paid, female-dominated work. In the Nordic countries, from the 1960s onwards, the model of the welfare state, which supported women’s equality, began to stand out. The women-friendly welfare state and state feminism began to develop, and the basic pillars of women-friendly social policy were public care services, generous social security, good-quality family leave and personalized social benefits. These changes created a foundation for women’s autonomy and the motherhood of paid employment.
The Finnish labor market has been characterized by a so-called normal working relationship model, i.e. a family model of two wage-earners, in which women have participated in the labor market to the same extent as men. The work-related commuting by Finnish nurses has transformed the idea of labor market citizenship – familiar, safe, ordinary and traditional everyday life has turned into an everyday life that takes place in multiple locations.
Nursing has become a freelance profession, which makes it possible to rearrange the work, either in Finland or outside Finland. For Finnish nurses who are commuting to Norway, work mobility means moving away from conventional ways of working.
The internationalization of the labor market and technological developments, including online recruitment have made international employment more flexible and easier. More and more of us have international experiences through travel or studies. Economic growth has made it possible to move around and thus lowered the threshold to international careers. Commuting has changed the way things operate in the labor market and expanded work mobility reflects the adaptability of the labor market and the increased competition.
The importance of labor market change for nurses
The labor market is in constant turmoil, and the employment relationship is no longer the basis of a stable life. Graduation does not automatically guarantee middle-class life, but lives in smaller cycles, where short and longer term employment, unemployment and study alternate. Life is filled with small projects. You want to experience, learn and challenge yourself. The nature of the work has changed, as has labor market policy.
Today, living in a welfare society no longer just means material well-being or health. On the other hand, prosperity is seen as a broader opportunity to determine one’s own life course and norms. Changes in work and everyday life are often small and inconspicuous, largely unconscious, but the increased autonomy of individuals in society has provided citizens with tools to change everyday life and its routines consciously and plannedly, including in women-dominated sectors.
The increase in autonomy in the care market is also evident in the daily lives of nurses in Norway. They define the amount and time of their own work, including active participation and good negotiating skills in matters of pay and employment. The possibility of a high degree of autonomy, competitive pay and a more relaxed working conditions is of interest to Finnish nurses. It is possible to change work that is not satisfactory in Finland for a more flexible way of working by commuting. The good employee benefits offered by Norway attract Finnish nurses, although the commuter lifestyle brings with it certain challenges.
From a social point of view, the nurses are, in principle, labor market citizens, but in their own daily lives they are also mothers, spouses and carers. There is an inevitable need for restructuring everyday life.
In spring 2020, there were two major changes that affected nursing in Finland and globally. The negotiations on the pay and conditions of nursing staff in Finland and the global Corona virus pandemic have created tensions in many respects. Traditionally, nurses have been an invisible and quiet professional group, but the changes have created an active and visible group of nurses, ready to re-negotiate their place in the labor market.
The English translation was edited by Katja Hiltunen.
Katja Laakkonen is a doctoral candidate at the University of Eastern Finland at the Faculty of Social Sciences. She conducts research on the transnational daily life of Finnish nurses as labor market citizens in Finland and Norway. Laakkonen has worked as a nurse in both Finland and Norway. Working as a nurse in Norway and teaching Norwegian to nurses at a Joensuu community college have given Laakkonen an extensive understanding of work-related commuting between Finland and Norway.