As a student it can prove difficult to find a suitable part time job. As an international student there are even more obstacles to overcome. Often it is unavoidable to look for work in the restaurant sector as opposed to the field you are studying.
This also applies to me and my fellow master’s student Imad Saoudi at the University of Turku. I want to share our experiences of working in the restaurant sector so you’ll know what to be aware of.
The first obstacle is finding a job: this might also be the hardest part of the task. It took me six months to find work as a waiter but for Saoudi it took ten months to find a job. The main problem seemed to be the language barrier.
“I had to aim low and look for jobs in which the use of Finnish would be limited. Even then, it was almost impossible to find a job by going through the regular online channels of local job advertising websites”, Saoudi explains.
Both Saoudi and I felt lucky when we finally found employment. I was fortunate to ask if there was a job available in the right place at the right time, and Saoudi who works as a busser (in Finnish blokkari) at a nightclub adds:
“I only found my current job because I knew some of the people who work at the nightclub personally. They thought of me when they needed new workers and offered me the job.”
The Must Haves
In order to be able to apply for a job in Finland you need to have a social security number and get a tax card.
In the restaurant sector a hygiene pass is required when you handle unpacked and easily perishable foods, such as salad, milk, meat, and fish. If you serve alcoholic drinks, you need to obtain the alcohol pass.
Imad Saoudi and I both have the hygiene pass and it is fairly easy to get.
“There’s plenty of information about the pass available in English online. The only tricky thing was the test, because some of the questions were a bit hard to understand as the English language in the test was far from correct”, Saoudi describes.
Know your rights
Once you find a job, you should know your rights as an employee.
Yle reported this spring that “regional authorities identified several shortcomings regarding working conditions at restaurants across southern Finland – at big chains as well as independently-run eateries”. According to the article the main problems are underpayment and shortcomings regarding workplace environments for example a lack of ergonomic working positions.
You should always check that your wages are in compliance with the collective employee agreement and that your employer adheres to this agreement.
Often part time jobs in the restaurant sector are based on zero-hour contracts. This means that the employer won’t guarantee a fixed amount of working hours for the employee.
There is a long history behind zero-contracts as the amount of work is naturally quite unpredictable in the restaurant business.
Zero-hour contracts have their pro’s and con’s. When you don’t have time to work the employer can’t force you to. The employer is also obliged to pay you for the hours you have agreed upon even if you cannot make it to work due to illness for example.
“The main downside is that your revenue can change a lot from one month to another, so making long term plans becomes really difficult. On the other hand, the contract gives a certain freedom, because it makes the shifts flexible”, Imad Saoudi states.
There are also worse scenarios. I lost one restaurant job in the blink of an eye, when my employer suddenly decided to stop giving me any hours. This was possible because of the zero-hour contract, but quite unfair to me as an employee.
The Rights Are A Changin’
In conversation with the employers’ representative The Finnish Hospitality Association MaRa, I found out that a new law to improve the status of workers on flexible hours should come into force this summer.
“This law imposes restrictions to zero-hour contracts and there will be confines for employers on when they are allowed to make zero-hour contracts”, says Eero Lindström, Labour Market Director at MaRa.
In general I feel like the restaurant sector is opening up to more English speaking employees. In Helsinki especially there are many restaurants that employ foreigners and in Turku I hear English increasingly at the workplaces.
Saoudi is positive too:
“I am lucky to work in an environment where everybody speaks English. Even when there is a piece of crucial information circulating in Finnish, there is always somebody to let me know about it.”
Nevertheless these experiences demonstrate that it remains a challenge to find a job, as a foreigner in particular, and that you should take the time to familiarize yourself with your rights as an employee.
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