In Finland, not everyone pays the same amount for a traffic fine. As an example of the progressive country it prides itself on being, Finland sets traffic fines in accordance with the offender’s income, so they have the same impact on everyone. However, although the amounts may be different, those who receive a fine do have something in common: everyone has to dial the same phone number to appeal against them, or to arrange to pay by instalments, among other options.
What most of them don’t know, though, is that these calls from anywhere in Finland to the country’s traffic department are actually answered in Fuengirola, home to the largest community of Finnish expats in the world.
Barona (which employs 8,000 people worldwide) runs this service through a call centre in the town, and 185 members of staff work there. The office manager is Paulina Manso, who came to Malaga 20 years ago and has been in Spain longer than any of the others.
“All the staff are Finnish and most of them have come specifically to do this job,” she says.
The services provided by Barona for the Finnish traffic department are very similar to those of its counterpart in Spain, but rather more modern.
“We have a customer service department, and people can pay their road tax through us, report the loss of their driving licence and pay traffic fines or appeal against them,” explains Paulina.
“The difference with a call centre is that in Finland people can deal with things online or via social media. For example, you can pay a fine or appeal against it via our official Facebook page,” she says. At present the company is training staff on how to assist customers via a chat service, which will be “faster still”.
Although most of the business handled by Barona in Fuengirola is traffic-related - 70 members of staff work exclusively in that department - the company also handles work for other types of Finnish business.
“A Finnish person who has to ring the main electricity or telephone companies for some reason will also be speaking to someone on the Costa del Sol,” says Paulina.
The reasons the company, which is currently advertising for more staff, decided to set up in Fuengirola are clear.
“The salaries here are lower than in Finland, so the costs are cheaper, but despite the fact that they will be earning less, people who live in Finland find the idea of working in Malaga, at least for a couple of years, very attractive, especially because of the climate,” she explains.
She also considers that there is a great potential for growth. “There are 185 of us here at present; by the end of the year there will be over 200, and we have space for about 400 staff altogether,” she says.
A working ‘Erasmus’
The office, which has several empty areas, is also the base for a government programme which Paulina describes as a type of working Erasmus. There is a pool of people who are offered the chance by their companies to work remotely from another country, in this case Spain. They normally stay for between six months and a year, and they are paid at the same rate as they would be in Finland.
“For these people, it is important that they earn the same as they would at home, despite the climate and quality of life in Fuengirola,” says Pauline. “So we don’t just have people answering the phone here; there are a lot of people doing very different jobs,” she explains.
Fuengirola is the favourite destination for Finnish citizens on the Costa del Sol and they make up one of the largest foreign communities in the town. Official figures show that in December 2014 there were 4,500 Finns on the population register, a much higher figure than those from other Scandinavian countries: 1,750 Swedes, 1,200 Danes and 800 Norwegians.
However, the real number of Finnish people in Fuengirola is probably even higher, because many people come regularly for short periods and have not registered at the town hall.