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Why Finnish nurses choose Norway over their native country

Why Finnish nurses choose Norway over their native country

| Text and photo: Bengt Östling

In the largest hall at the Messukeskus conference centre, Finnish DJ Darude springs a surprise tune. Sandstorm blasts out to an enthusiastic audience made up of nearly 2,000 nurses from the whole of Finland during the annual nurses' days in Helsinki.

In the convention hall, tens of recruitment officers are waiting in their exhibition spots for the audience to come streaming out. They want to talk about the advantages that their particular hospital, health centre or retirement home can offer.  

There is a lot of popcorn, chocolate and recruitment brochures on offer. But the municipal recruitment officers in particular admit that it is hard to get people’s interest right now. The private companies look like they have a bit more success with their campaigns.

But everyone is waiting on the conclusion of the drawn-out industrial dispute, which was still ongoing when the Nordic Labour Journal visited the convention. 

Tempting to change jobs when wages stagnate

The timing could not be better for the recruiting staff. Nearly half of the nurses’ trade union Tehy’s members say they are considering changing careers. 

Nurses’ pay negotiations have been going on for six months and the fight has been hardening all along. This time it has been extra difficult to reach a collective agreement for the healthcare sector, as the trade unions have been pushing for a higher wage increase than all other sectors.

Nurses see themselves as underpaid and their jobs have been particularly tough during the pandemic – and there is a sense of a lot of public support for their case.  

The nurses’ trade union Tehy and nursing assistants’ union Super carried out selective strikes to hurry up negotiations on wages and work conditions. This time the trade unions also announced that members would refuse to carry out safety work which guarantees staffing in intensive wards despite the strike action. A court ruled that they were not allowed to use that particular weapon.

In response to this, nursing staff have threatened mass resignations. 500 health workers have even returned their licenses which allow them to work in the care sector. They have already changed sectors in order to avoid being forcibly called in to do shifts during a crisis. 

Attractive Norwegian jobs

Knowing all this, it can be tempting to listen to the Norwegian recruitment officers at the Messukeskus conference centre. Norwegian Marthe Einseth works for the Swedish company Dedicare. She can offer double the pay and half the stress compared to jobs in Finland.

Many Finnish health workers have gone to Norway to work as nurses and assistant nurses over the years. There is a healthcare staff shortage in Norway, and the country has done what Finland has chosen not to do – increase wages and improve working conditions. 


Dedicare connects workers to retirement homes and to home care providers. Finland is an important market, explains Marthe Einseth. She gets many questions from interested Finns about wages and working conditions during the nurses’ days and at similar events.

“Norwegian wages are tied to experience. We do hear rumours that healthcare workers earn 15 to 18 euro per hour in Finland. In Norway, if you have ten years or more experience, you can earn up to 28 euro basic pay,” explains Marthe Einseth to interested Finns. 

Sounds like a holiday

She explains that nurses enjoy a lot of flexibility in Norway. Many are tempted by the fact that care workers can decide when they want to work and for how long.

“It means you can work intensively in Norway and then take some time off. Many take a break from their job in Finland in order to work in Norway. Others go on leave or work part-time."

Their work in Norway is on top of their permanent jobs in Finland. Most workers do this for some periods of their careers and not as a permanent solution for the rest of their lives – although some do that too, explains Marthe Einseth.

Dedicare needs all kinds of staff across the whole of Norway, for most fields of work. The only thing they look for is previous experience in the same field, explains Einseth. Some Scandinavian language skills are also needed.

There are also summer jobs for nursing students. Dedicate also has a division that can provide doctors, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses. The company is the largest provider of health sector staffing in Norway, says Marthe Einseth. But it also provides staffing to Sweden and Denmark. She travels to Finland to recruit people up to four times a year.

She does not know how many Finns she and her company have recruited to work in Norway. But it is a big number, she says. 

The interest is clearly visible during the nurses’ days in Helsinki too. It has grown lately because of the labour market unrest in Finland, says Marthe Einseth. You can tell that health workers are tired and need a break. 

Better than expected solution to conflict

Just a few weeks after the nurses’ days in Helsinki, a solution to the health sector labour conflict was found. 

In early October, the national conciliator presented an offer that was accepted by all parties, including the municipal employers’ organisation and the new welfare areas which will take over health and social care sectors from municipals at the end of the year.

It is a good deal, according to Millariikka Rytkönen from the Tehy union. Wages will rise on average by 17.3 % over five years. This is an average figure for all Tehy wages covering a five-year period until 2027.

The agreement covers 180,000 health workers. Both employees and employers are relieved that the agreement is in place and that there is now industrial peace in the Finnish healthcare sector until 1 May 2027. Employers underlined that industrial peace and patient safety is now secured for many years.

Moving plans on hold? 

Nobody knew this during the nurses’ days at the Messukeskus conference centre in September, although many were hoping things would get solved. Some people’s plans for changing jobs or moving to better-paid jobs abroad might change now that wages rise in Finland.

But Marthe Einseth can still offer double the pay for half the work.

Facts about the agreement

The agreement sees health workers get twice as large wage increases compared to wage-earners in other Finnish sectors. Health workers’ wages rise to more than 3,000 euro a month – a psychologically important goal. People who worked in the sector during the worst of the Corona pandemic in early 2020 get a 600 euro bonus, as long as they are still working by the end of February 2023.

The new agreement can solve the serious labour shortage in Finland, as the healthcare occupation’s standing is rising again, the parties said as the agreement was reached. 

The agreement actually ended up being better than the original demand, according to trade union leaders. Some of the improvements include protected lunch hours, which Finnish doctors already enjoy. 

There will be an end to the ban on employers’ right to recruit, which had hindered health workers' wage development and freedom of movement between different types of employment. Small improvements to rights to holidays are being made, and working conditions and management will be improved in the health and care sector. 

Thousands have moved away from Finland

According to statistics from the Finnish nurses’ union, some 1,000 nurses have moved abroad over the past ten years. Sweden, Norway and the UK have been the most popular destinations.

Head of Dedicare Nurse, Berit Tromsdal, adds some numbers from Norway:

Dedicare employed more than 3,500 temporary health workers in Norway in 2021. 2,000  of them came from abroad. The summer is high season. 

Understandably, no one in Norway wants to go and work in Finland. Wage levels are approximately the same in Norway and Sweden, while in Finland they are considerably lower. It is not yet clear how the numbers will look when the new wage agreement is up and running.

Read more about health workers

Many Norwegian nurses are planning their escape


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