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What does the membership of a union have to do with the conditions for a good life?

Collective agreements negotiated by unions play a key role in determining whether we have money, time and energy for family, friends, hobbies, love and life outside of work in general. Without trade union members, there would be no collective agreements.

In Finland, the legislation related to work and employment relationships is quite loose. Legislators have given a lot of power to employees and employers to negotiate working conditions together. Sectoral negotiations result in agreements called collective agreements. Collective agreements are often valid for 2 to 3 years, and so in practice, the terms of employment are negotiated every couple of years.

Therefore, the following, among many other conditions that are important for the employee, are based on the collective agreement and not the Finnish legislation:

  • Holiday bonus
  • Remuneration for sick leave even after more than nine days, usually for three months
  • General wage increase
  • Travel cost compensations
  • Paid maternity leave for the first three months
  • One week’s paid paternity leave
  • Possibility to care for a sick child for a few days at home without losing pay
  • The length of the working day is 7.5 hours instead of eight hours

The unions’ working life experts represent their members in the negotiations

As collective agreements are negotiated on a sectoral basis, unions have joined forces with other unions whose members work in the same fields. In the private sector, the terms and conditions of employment of the Akava union members are negotiated by the Federation of Professional and Managerial Staff (YTN) and in the public sector by the Negotiation Organisation for Public Sector Professionals (JUKO). In practice, the negotiators are employees of the unions.

With regard to negotiations, it is important to remember that union employees represent members in collective bargaining. In the workplace, members of unions, in turn, are represented by a shop steward. The employees of the unions negotiating collective agreements work closely with the shop stewards. The shop stewards act as the eyes and ears of negotiators in the workplace regarding how collective agreements should be developed according to the wishes and interests of employees.

The employees’ bargaining power is completely dependent on how many members there are, the things that are important to them and how much effort the members are willing to put into the negotiation for an essential employment condition. If the employers, for example, do not believe the employees are ready to go on strike if necessary, the employees’ negotiators are at a disadvantage if negotiations become a wrangle.

The members of unemployment funds benefit without a membership

Membership of an unemployment fund or a fund association alone does not in any way support collective bargaining. The entire collective bargaining and shop steward system is financed by the union members’ membership income. However, for the sake of universality, the same sectoral terms from collective agreements currently apply to all employers and employees in the sector.

However, if more and more people are content with just membership in an unemployment fund instead of membership in the union, the existence of collective agreements and the working conditions based on them will be in jeopardy. Unions always primarily represent their members. Without trade union members, there are no representatives, no collective agreements or decent working conditions.

What can an individual employee do to maintain and develop the terms of collective agreements?

  1. Be a member of a trade union negotiating collective agreements in your field. You can check the YTN affiliates here and JUKO affiliates here. In addition, the majority of companies are members of employers’ associations representing the interests of employers. Therefore, the employers are also organised.
  2. Make sure your workplace has an active shop steward or employee representative representing Akava union members and employees. If there is no shop steward in your workplace, choose one. You can also set up a workplace association with your colleagues from the Akava unions to support members, help the shop steward in their advocacy role and do their part in workplace development and advocacy work.
  3. Furthermore, make sure that your contact information and job information are up-to-date in your association’s membership registerso that the unions’ working life experts know how many members there are in each field and in which jobs they work. You will also receive information on, for example, the progress of the negotiations by email, and your opinion may be sought through surveys.

Local agreement means company- or workplace-specific agreements

Senior salaried employee’s collective agreements have quite a wide range of opportunities for local agreements. The contractor may be a shop steward within the meaning of the contract, the personnel together or, possibly, a senior salaried employee themselves. The basic premise is always that the provisions of the collective agreement are complied with, unless a term of employment has been expressly agreed otherwise.

Local agreement requires both parties to have an in-depth understanding and knowledge of labour laws and agreements. Without a shop steward trained by YTN and the unions, with the support of the union’s working life experts, if necessary, there is a risk that the employee side will be flexible and accept the conditions “dictated” by the employer, as the bargaining position is not always equal between the employee and the employer. Therefore, our aim is to ensure that the network of shop stewards is as comprehensive as possible and that local agreements do not dilute the important terms that come from collective agreements for employees.

Text: Tiina Henry-Biabaud, Press Officer of IT Service Sector at YTN
Image: Irina Murza, Unsplash


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