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Customers' opinions are divided over the impact of a taxi deregulation that took effect last summer, according to poll results released by the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency (Traficom) on Thursday.

Overall, nearly nine out of 10 respondents were generally satisfied with the quality of taxi services. Three quarters considered taxi availability to be good.

But people who use taxis often said that it has become more difficult to get hold of a taxi since the law was imposed last at the beginning of July. The Traficom survey was carried out in August and September, so the contrast between 'before and after' was fresh in people's minds.

Members of special groups who frequently use taxis, such as people with disabilities and others with limited mobility, said that both the feeling of safety in taxis and their availability had diminished. They also felt that drivers had less know-how about customer needs than before.

Customers generally considered taxis to be safe though, and 85 percent of respondents said that this had not changed significantly since the law took effect. In the Helsinki region, however, one fifth of respondents said that safety had worsened, with many expressing worry about being ripped off on pricing.

Fares dipped – then rose again

Taxi fares dropped after the legislation came onto the books, but clearly began to rise again in October.

Statistics Finland said in early November that the average fare level was seven percent higher than in June, just before the new law came online. In the Helsinki region, prices had leapt by 14 percent.

Traficom has now published price data for the last quarter of 2018, showing that in October fares were a national average of 3.6 percent higher than pre-reform.

According to the agency's figures, the biggest price jumps were in Kymenlaakso (9.2%), Uusimaa (7.7%), Kainuu (7.2%), Päijät-Häme (6.0%) and Pirkanmaa (3.3%).

On the other hand, fares dipped slightly in six regions, with the biggest decline of 2.3 percent in Kanta-Häme. Some these fluctuations were attributed to changes in pricing systems.

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Violent deaths related to alcohol saw a significant increase in Finland last year, according to preliminary figures from the Institute of Criminology and Legal Policy (Krimo).

Despite being ranked by the UN as the happiest country in the world for the second year in a row, residents in Finland are increasingly dying in alcohol-related violence. In 2018 booze-linked violent deaths increased by 25-30 percent compared to the year before.

Martti Lehti, a university researcher from Krimo, said that the number of women who died as a result of alcohol-related violence went down somewhat, but for men that number nearly doubled.

"The increase is staggering - more than 20 additional men died than during the previous year. In crime statistics this means an increase of more than 30 percent," Lehti said, noting the change cannot be attributed to normal annual fluctuations.

There were 91 alcohol-related violent deaths in Finland last year. In 2017 some 67 people died under similar circumstances. However, last year's tally may still be adjusted as it is a preliminary statistic, Lehti explained.

Middle-aged Finns

The perpetrators and victims involved in alcohol-related violence are typically native-born middle-aged, unemployed Finnish men who get drunk and then use kitchen knives to sort out arguments, according to Lehti.

The Krimo study found it was common that both perpetrators and victims in alcohol-related deaths were intoxicated with blood alcohol concentration levels of 2.0 promille (mg per ml of blood).

The rate of violence-related deaths have been on a decline in Finland for a number of years, and the reasons behind last year's spike of alcohol-related deaths - and a reported overall increase in violent incidents - are unknown.

Alcohol use has been linked to each the deaths themselves, but overall consumption of alcohol only rose by 0.6 percent last year. The increased drinking has been attributed to last year's reforms to alcohol laws that permitted stronger beer and alcopops to be sold in shops, which previously were only available from the state liquor monopoly Alko.

Alcohol link

"Although total alcohol consumption has increased moderately, consumption may have increased more in groups where the risk of violence is higher," Lehti said, but noted those factors need closer examination before any conclusions can be made.

Last year Krimo published a report about a study on the links between the availability of alcohol and the numbers of violent deaths from the beginning of the 1800s until the beginning of the 2000s.

The study found that the number of violent deaths always went up as alcohol consumption rates increased.

For example, violent death rates increased significantly when Finland slashed the alcohol tax in 2004.

The tax was cut by up to a third on spirits, in response to fears that Estonia's EU-membership would lead to unlimited quantities of cheap alcohol flowing into Finland.

The tax cut led to a 10 percent increase in alcohol consumption. A few years later government began to gradually raise alcohol taxes again.

A half a century ago, when grocery stores gained the right to sell beer and drinks containing a maximum 4.7 percent alcohol, consumption levels shot up by 40 percent.

The 10 percent

Olavi Kaukonen is operations manager at the A-Clinic Foundation, an NGO which works to prevent and treat substance abuse. He said that even minor overall increases of alcohol consumption is worrying, particularly for large-scale consumers of booze.

"Many big drinkers are dependent on alcohol and when availability significantly increases even more of their income goes toward buying more alcohol," he said, noting that the use of alcohol is particularly concentrated to a particular group in Finland.

Just 10 percent of Finland's population - around half a million people - drink about half of all the alcoholic beverages that are consumed.

"The [alcohol-related] violent deaths mostly affect one group of around 10,000 marginalised people with bleak prospects," he said.

He said this marginalised group has not received the attention they would need in recent times, even though the country has been discussing social and health care reforms for years.

Kaukonen said it would not be difficult to break the cycle of violence connected to alcohol abuse.

"It would go a long way by making it easier for people to get help for substance abuse problems and to increase funding for preventative work," he said.

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Some Nokia 7 Plus smartphones sent data to servers in China, according to Norwegian public broadcaster NRK.

Finland's HMD Global, which pays for the right to produce and market Nokia-branded phones, confirmed there was a software glitch on a batch of the handsets which has been corrected.

NRK reported on Thursday that personal data of some of the phones' owners had also been sent to Chinese servers, but HMD denied this.

The Norwegian public broadcaster was contacted by a Nokia 7 Plus owner who tracked the data sent from his handset. He told NRK that the phone had sent unencrypted data packets to a server in China as the phone was powered up, when the screen was activated or when the phone was locked.

Finland's data ombudsman Reijo Aarnio told news service STT that preliminary information he has seen indicates that Nokia phones had actually sent users' personal information to Chinese servers. The data was reportedly sent to servers run by state-owned China Telekom, China's third-largest mobile telecommunications provider.

Aarnio told news service Reuters that he plans to determine whether alleged breaches occurred that involved "personal information and if there was legal justification for it."

Telecommunications firm Nokia, which receives licensing fees from HMD, did not issue a statement on the matter, according to Reuters.

What was or wasn't sent?

NRK reported that the sent data packets included information about the phone's location, the nearest cell tower, its telephone number, the SIM card number and the phone's unique IMEI number.

Using a combination of this data would make it possible to track where the phone was located in real time.

HMD Global said the problem only affected one batch of the Nokia 7 Plus and caused those phones to send activation data to a server in China. HMD said the personal information of the phones' users could not be identified with the data that was sent.

The company said the issue has been fixed and that the remedy was part of a security update which was sent to all of the affected handsets.

The Nokia 7 Plus, which was released as a flagship handset last year, has been quite popular in China. The first quarter-million of the Android-run handsets reportedly sold out in the first five minutes they were put on the market.

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A joint campaign by the Finnish Road Safety Council and police found many cases in which small children were buckled in with seat belts when they should have been travelling in car seats.

The Finnish Road Safety Council points out children must use a car safety seat until they are 135cm tall.

Police also found many toddlers travelling in a forward-facing direction. It is widely recognised that rear-facing seats support the head and neck the best in a crash situation. The Road Safety Council recommends children travel in rear-facing seats for as long as seat weight restrictions allow.

In a few instances, police found that child passengers were not strapped in at all.

Ari-Pekka Elovaara of the Finnish Road Safety Council underscored that children’s bodies are far more fragile than adults’ and therefore require the best possible protection in an accident.

The road safety campaign inspected some 1,100 child passengers.

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A new report finds that youths in Finland have been forced into prostitution, and that the sugar dating phenomenon is putting teens at risk.

The study was conducted by Elina Kervinen and Natalia Ollus of the European Institute group for Crime Prevention and Control, a UN-affiliated group.

“Human trafficking isn’t visible on the surface,” said Veikko Mäkelä, project manager for the Finnish National Assistance System for Victims of Human Trafficking, an Interior Ministry group which commissioned the report.

Police and social workers don’t always realise that human trafficking underlies some cases of sexual abuse or that a teen caught stealing is working for someone else.

Mäkelä and Kervinen both asserted that sugar dating, which most often involves an older man bestowing gifts on a younger woman, sometimes in exchange for sexual favours, puts teens at risk for trafficking.

Vulnerable runaways

Children taken into state custody or runaways are most vulnerable to traffickers. Drug-addicted youths forced to pay off their debts through prostitution are another at-risk group as are young foreign women sold into marriage with immigrant-background men in Finland.

Mäkelä underscores that traffickers are often people close to children – parents, teachers, relatives or friends – individuals that can manipulate a child’s trust.

Six convictions

Since becoming a punishable offence in 2004, Finnish courts have handed down six rulings on child trafficking. Five of the six cases involved native Finnish children.

One of the cases involved a middle-aged man prostituting a 14-year-old girl after he convinced her to live with him. Another case centred on a drug ring holding an 18-year-old woman captive while prostituting her.

Since 2007, the Finnish National Assistance System for Victims of Human Trafficking has dealt with some 200 human trafficking cases involving minors and people under 21.

However Kervinen, who co-authored the report issued on Thursday, said many more victims need help.

Trafficked asylum-seekers

Most victims coming through the national assistance system are asylum-seekers, according to Mäkelä.

The report showed that it was easier for authorities to detect human trafficking abuses among asylum-seekers than the native population.

Some young asylum-seekers have been sexually abused in their countries of origin, en route to Europe as well as in Finland, according to Mäkelä.

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In an annual report issued on Thursday, the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) says that the number of foreign intelligence agency employees in Finland is large, considering the size of the country. Russia and China are particularly interested in Finland, Supo says in its yearbook.

Last year cyberespionage efforts by state actors we particularly active, but intelligence services still also use more traditional spycraft methods, the agency says. These include gaining sources to personal data and recruiting individuals who can help to influence the political decision-making process and public opinion. Typically intelligence officers are in the country with diplomatic status.

"Diplomatic cover is typical, but not the only method. There are intelligence staff who live in Finland permanently, but also some who just visit," Supo director Antti Pelttari said at the book's publishing event in Helsinki.

From year to year, Supo says, foreign intelligence services are perennially interested in Finland's Nato debate, foreign and security policy, Finland's position on EU sanctions and the security situation in the Baltic Sea region.

Pelttari does not believe that there is or will be any major foreign state efforts to influence next month's parliamentary election.

"Over the past few years we have focused on efforts to influence election meddling and ways to prevent it. We do not believe that the parliamentary election is the target of significant influence from any foreign state. The European Parliament election may be more vulnerable to influencing efforts," he said. The European election is in late May.

Terror threat remains elevated

In Supo's view, the terrorism threat in Finland remained at a heightened level last year, rated as level two on a four-level scale. The most significant threat is from 'lone wolf' individuals or small groups with ties to radical Islamist networks or organisations.

Supo, formerly known as the security police, says it is tracking 370 people as part of its terrorism prevention measures. A growing number of these individuals have either taken part as foreign fighters in armed conflict in Syria or Iraq, or have expressed interest in doing so or received terrorism training. Supo notes that some foreign fighters from Finland have risen to significant positions within the terror group Isis.

According to Supo researcher Pekka Hiltunen, Isis has lost some operational capability along with its loss of territory, but there are still areas where it has solid support. The group's military losses are also triggering a significant rise in foreign fighters' desire to return home.

These people may pose a threat as they return to Finland, Hiltunen warned.

"A desire to return is not the same as abandoning radical ideology. Some may be forced to return as it is no longer possible to operate in the same way in that region," he observed.

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Some 58 percent respondents in a recent survey would be willing to allow sectoral employer-employee negotiations about Sunday pay levels, according to the Federation of Finnish Entrepreneurs, EK.

The poll asked 1,078 random respondents whether employers and employees should be free to settle Sunday pay levels on their own, if both parties are willing.

Finnish law currently requires people who work on Sundays to receive double the daily pay rate.

Some 28 percent of respondents did not warm to the idea of sectoral negotiations, while 14 percent did not take a stand one way or the other.

The EK maintains that current laws prevent many small firms in particular from keeping their doors open on Sundays.

"It is stated in our Growth Finland target programme that this is something we'd like to see the next elected parliament and government tackle. It would be one way to improve employment because then entrepreneurs would be able to offer workers hours on Sundays as well," says EK labour market director Janne Makkula.

The survey was carried out by the pollster Kantar TNS in late January 2019. Results contain a three percentage-point margin of error.

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Business daily Kauppalehti’s editorial takes a critical view of political debates leading up to next month’s parliamentary elections. KL says political parties can’t see the forest from the trees, as political discussions have become too granular while ignoring the bigger problem of dwindling state coffers.

KL asserts that with its relatively low employment rate of 72 percent, Finland can’t afford to maintain the same level of welfare services as Norway, Denmark and Sweden, which have higher GDP per capita. Sweden’s employment rate is around 78 percent.

The editorial warns against raising taxes to buffer public funds since Finland already suffers from brain drain as taxes influence where people work and live.

Crossing the line?

When the country’s small pool of tax experts counsel corporate clients on tax planning while potentially influencing tax laws, a conflict of interest is inherent, writes Swedish-language daily Hufvudstadsbladet.

HBL dissects Santtu Raitasuo's study, which homed in on the double role tax lawyers often occupy in Finland.

Raitasuo argued that when the same legal experts that advise corporations also serve as opinion leaders in the field, the scales may be tipped in favour of corporate clients’ interests in tax disputes.

Finland currently ranks third after Denmark and New Zealand in Transparency International's worldwide corruption index.

Finland's Stone Age farmers

New DNA evidence suggests that maritime hunter-gatherers on the Åland Islands cultivated barley 5,000 years ago, which is 1,500 earlier than previous studies about cereal cultivation on mainland Finland have suggested, reports agricultural newspaper Maaseudun Tulevaisuus.

Published in Scientific Reports, a peer-reviewed journal, a team of Finnish and Swedish archaeologists argue that cereal use was intended for ritual feasts, when cereal products could have been consumed with pork.

Scientists previously struggled to prove that Neolithic hunter-gatherer communities knew how to farm in the latter part of the Stone Age.

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More than half of adults in Finland regularly use at least one prescription medication, according to a survey commissioned by the Association of Finnish Pharmacies.

More than one-third of respondents between the ages of 18-24 said they took medication regularly, compared to 81 percent of older survey participants.

Nearly everyone who took part in the survey who had regular prescriptions said they knew why they used them. Some 78 percent said they were fully aware of the reasons they take the drugs.

However nearly one-fifth of respondents, some 18 percent, said they were vaguely aware of the reasons they were prescribed meds. For example, on reason for certain prescriptions is to keep blood pressure within certain levels. If a fifth of the population isn't exactly sure about why they're taking medication, they might not know what the ultimate goal is.

Room for improvement

Pharamcy association director Charlotta Sandler said that lack of awareness shows there's room for improvement within the industry.

She has suggested that pharmacy staff should help patients who are regularly prescribed medications with follow-up consultations.

The pharmacy association has suggested that prescriptions' target outcomes should be written directly on medicine labels. It also proposed that customers who pick up drugs at the chemist should be encouraged by pharmacy staff to actively track the efficacy of their medications.

This service should be free of charge, Sandler said, and should become a regular part of a visit to the pharmacy. She added that she believes people can learn how to follow up and track their prescription drug use.

She noted that some participants may well have exaggerated their knowledge of the medications they're taking, pointing to figures from the World Health Organisation estimating that only half of patients take medications as they are prescribed.

The survey on users of prescription drugs interviewed about 1,000 people in Finland with a 3.2 percent margin of error and was conducted by polling firm IROResearch.

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Russian officials reportedly stopped more than 1,000 people from illegally crossing the border into Finland last year, according to the Lännen Media news consortium.

The news agency reported on Wednesday that the Finnish Border Guard received the data from Russian officials.

Interim Border Guard head Major General Pasi Kostamovaara told LM that the reported number of intercepted border crossings was five times as high as in the previous year, 2017.

Officials attributed the high number of attempted border violations to the football World Cup that took place in Russia last summer. Event tourists were able to enter Russia without a visa and many took advantage of the opportunity to try and enter Finland, they speculated. Most of the people stopped at the border were non-EU nationals.

Kostamovaara said that he expected that people would continue to try their hand at entering Finland illegally, however not in the numbers reported in 2018.

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