– 50 years of work for the interests of senior salaried employees
The Federation of Professional and Managerial Staff was established in 1973. The main goal was to bring senior salaried employees to the negotiation table so that their salaries would not be decided by others.
Charting the organisation’s history, the book “Ja edessä oli umpihankea – Ylempien toimihenkilöiden tie neuvottelupöytiin” (Anitta Valtonen, 2019) sees the 1968 comprehensive incomes policy agreement as the initial impetus for the establishment of YTN. In the Liinamaa I comprehensive incomes policy agreement, named after Prime Minister Keijo Liinamaa, salaries were increased in pennies, not in percentages. This solidarity-based pay policy was in line with SAK’s wishes but against the interests of senior salaried employees and the highly educated, as their relative salary development remained weaker than that of other salary earners. Akava accepted the incomes policy and the penny policy reluctantly.
Labour market activities and salary negotiations were not part of the tasks of the organisations representing senior salaried employees. Back then, the organisations were closer to professional guilds rather than trade unions in the modern sense of the word. Many members identified strongly with the employer, wanted to negotiate their terms of employment themselves and gave speeches on collective lobbying as a form of leftism. For example, the idea of going on strike was seen as radical and impossible.
The employees who sought to change things represented the new way of thinking in the Union of Professional Engineers in Finland, Suomen Ekonomit (the Business School Graduates in Finland) and Tekniikan Akateemiset TEK, formerly known as the Central Union of University Engineers and Architects. They were supported by the unions’ young members.
RECOMMENDATIONS-BASED SALARY INCREASES WERE THE NORM
At the time of its establishment, YTN was only a cooperative body of unions without its own office and staff. For a long time, it struggled to get its voice heard within the public sector-focused Akava, and the employers’ organisation STK was opposed to the idea of senior salaried employees’ own collective agreements. Until the end of the 1980s, Akava negotiated incomes policy agreements, and YTN had to settle for STK recommending its member companies increase the salaries of senior salaried employees in accordance with the general agreement policy. Not everyone followed the recommendations.
However, the growing number of members and the creation of a network of shop stewards increased the weight of YTN little by little. Agreements that were binding on employers were finally reached in the 1990s. At the time, Akava’s collective bargaining negotiations were picked up by YTN and the public sector representative Akava-JS, the predecessor of the current JUKO. During the recession, YTN affiliates also stood out by organising regional employment projects for their unemployed members. The first industry-specific national collective agreement was reached in the metal industry at the end of 1994.
In 2007, YTN organised its first strike in the consulting sector, whose salary development lagged behind other sectors. As a result of the strike, the sector was able to catch up with industrial salaries to some extent. Compensation practices for work-related travel outside of working time were also improved, and the position and operating conditions of shop stewards improved significantly.
EMPLOYERS ABANDONED THE INCOMES POLICY BUT CONTINUED TO MONITOR COST LEVELS
In the 2000s, YTN, like all employee organisations, has had to adapt to a situation where employers have gradually started to reject negotiation activities.
The incomes policy period in Finland formally ended in 2007 with the announcement by the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK). Subsequently, EK delegated all agreements on terms of employment to its member unions. In the 2020s, the Finnish Forest Industries Federation and the Technology Industries of Finland have announced that they no longer conclude collective agreements but prefer company-specific solutions. However, the Technology Industries of Finland founded an association that negotiates collective agreements and is open for member companies to join.
There has been a conflict between the employers’ declarations and the realities of the labour market, as centralised decisions are still in demand.
“After the incomes policy period, a framework agreement was concluded in 2011, an employment and growth agreement in 2013 and a competitiveness pact in 2016, which are all clearly centralised solutions. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, central organisations made proposals, which included, for example, reducing layoff notice periods, improving unemployment security and reducing employer’s pension contributions,” says Teemu Hankamäki, former Chairman, current Vice-Chairman and Negotiations Manager of YTN.
Employers still insist on monitoring companies’ cost levels. Hankamäki estimates that this is at least as closely coordinated as the centralised incomes policy was.
“Customised local agreements should be made for each sector without exceeding the general salary level. This strange attitude of employers has hurt the whole negotiation system because until the export sector has come up with a solution, no progress will be made in any other sector. At the moment, people are also trying to draw up a new ‘Finnish model’.”
Hankamäki, who works at TEK as a Labour Market Director, has served as the Chairman of YTN for nearly six years but has been involved in the organisation’s activities since 2005. He has also worked as a responsible representative in the consulting sector and was involved in the sector’s extensive strike in 2007.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GENERAL INCREASES IS HIGHLIGHTED
During the incomes policy period, the salary development of senior salaried employees lagged behind other salary earner groups. This was the result of the penny policy that reduced income gaps, and the tax policies connected to the incomes policy did not benefit senior salaried employees either. According to the book “Ja edessä oli umpihankea”, the purchasing power of wage and salary earners increased by 58 per cent between 1970 and 1995, but senior salaried employees did not come close to this number.
In the 21st century, salary increases have, as a rule, been percentage-based. Since 2004, YTN has carried out sector-specific studies, and according to them, the general increase included in generally applicable collective agreements has been the surest way to raise the earnings level of the majority of members.
“Merit-based increases have decreased in the long term. For example, in the first decade of the 2000s, about a third of the respondents had received merit increases, whereas in recent years, this has been reduced to about a fifth,” says researcher Tuunia Keränen.
“Employers would like to abandon the general increases in agreements altogether. From YTN’s point of view, this is a difficult matter, as the number of merit increases seems to be decreasing rather than increasing,” says Vice-Chairman Hankamäki.
EMPLOYEE REPRESENTATIVES CARRY OUT COMPANY-LEVEL LOBBYING
A comprehensive and competent network of employee representatives in the workplace has long been the backbone of YTN’s lobbying.
“The difference is that fewer and fewer employee representatives work at only one physical office. They may have representees in dozens of locations that they have never met face-to-face. Sensing the atmosphere of the workplace nowadays requires a slightly different approach,” says Kosti Hyyppä, Specialist at Suomen Ekonomit.
He compares the present situation to 15 years ago when he started working at YTN and with the company’s employee representatives. When Hyyppä started at YTN, the organisation only trained shop stewards face to face. Today, online training and webinars are commonplace. He estimates that as the number of company-specific collective agreements increases, employee representatives will need even more agreement-related expertise.
“In any case, YTN must be able to attract people who can negotiate and build good relationships with employers. The most important thing has been, and will continue to be, the desire to take care of common interests.”
Liisa-Johanna Pesonen has worked as Head of Employee Representatives at Fujitsu Finland since 2013 and is a member of the company’s European Works Council.
“I feel that appreciation for our employee representatives has increased. People are more inclined to trust a person who has worked in the same position for a long time. I’ve heard that getting employee representatives into the administration of other companies is often difficult despite the legislation.”
Fujitsu has locations all over Finland, and telecommuting has increased. Pesonen agrees with Hyyppä’s observation that reaching representees requires creativity. She herself has held a shop steward’s meeting through Teams about once a month.
Pesonen is a member of Suomen Ekonomit and has received a lot of support in the performance of her duties.
“Employee representatives who are not union members are in a difficult position when it comes to, for example, receiving negotiation training.”
EX-OPERATORS: WE HAVE COME A LONG WAY, BUT THERE’S STILL ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
“The biggest achievement was that senior salaried employees were brought within the scope of collective agreements in general, although all industries still don’t have collective agreements,” says Heikki Kauppi.
TEK’s Executive Director Kauppi was Chairman of YTN three times between 2000 and 2017. Now he is retired.
“Long working hours and unpaid overtime are still a problem, but the situation has somewhat improved over the years. However, when compared to Western Europe, the salary level of senior salaried employees is still weak, and the long education is not properly reflected in the salary.”
During Kauppi’s term, YTN’s position as a “union of unions” was reflected in various internal tensions. The root cause was the differences between the unions’ members.
Lotta Savinko works as the Equality and Work Environment Manager at Akava. Between 2011–2015, she served as Vice-Chairman of YTN under the mandate of Suomen Ekonomit and, at the time, threatening a lockout was the new labour market phenomenon.
“The threat of a lockout had long been off the agenda, but the employer responded with it when we submitted the industrial action warning in the financial sector. This became typical in stalled negotiations,” she recalls.
During Savinko’s term as Vice-Chairman, communications focused on increasing the visibility and awareness of YTN both within and outside the organisation.
“It was not always clear to other labour market actors that senior salaried employees also exist as a category of personnel. Even members of YTN affiliates were often unfamiliar with YTN.”
Nuutti Pursiainen, who witnessed the change in the role of the office, was YTN’s last Secretary General in 2018–19.
“My term was a turning point. After that, an organisation manager was hired as the office supervisor.”
Pursiainen, who worked at YKA, worked in a position of trust as the Secretary General alongside his own work. YTN’s office had 2–3 employees at the time, whereas the current number is 5. The change was preceded by a discussion between member unions about what they wanted from a negotiation organisation.
“As an organisation, YTN has come a long way. The office offers support services, but agreements are handled by people on the union’s payroll. It has been a matter of debate whether these people should be hired directly by YTN.”
Text: Mikko Nikula