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Trade Unions & Employee Representation in Finland

Trade Unions in Finland

Almost 75% of Finns are members of a trade union; a high figure high by international standards. The International Labour organization (ILO) has ranked Finnish unions as amongst the most effective in the world.

The main purpose of a union is to safeguard and improve the benefits and rights of its members. This includes, for example, income development, employment security, and quality of work life.

In Finland an important function of trade unions is to run unemployment funds and to provide earnings-related unemployment benefits. These are typically much higher than the basic unemployment allowance provided by Kela (see Social Security). Many would argue that this is the primary reason for joining a union, and you should certainly enquire about joining an unemployment fund as soon as you start a new job.

Finnish unions are occupation-based. There are three main levels: Local trade unions, national federations of member local unions, and confederations which are the peak organizations made up of affiliated federations. Collective agreements covering the whole of Finland are concluded between the federations.

Dispute Resolution in Finland

If you find yourself involved in a potential dispute with your employer, ask your shop steward (your union's representative in the workplace) for advice. If you don't know or can't reach the shop steward, contact your union and ask them how to proceed.

If you are a member of a union you will almost certainly be working under a collective agreement detailing certain terms and conditions of your employment. If disagreements arise at the workplace regarding a collective agreement or its interpretation, or if it appears that the agreement may have been broken, dispute resolution usually begins with negotiations at the workplace. Most collective agreements provide a grievance procedure for the settlement of disputes concerning the application of the agreement in question.

If the matter cannot be solved between the employees and employer, negotiations will then continue between the employer and the shop steward representing the trade union.

If the negotiations still don’t produce a solution, the matter will be forwarded to be negotiated between the employer and the wage and salary earners’ unions.

If no solution can be found at this level, either one of the unions may take the matter to the Labour Court.

Legal labour disputes which do not concern collective agreements can be taken to public courts for settlement (see Employment Law & Disputes ).

Which Finnish Trade Union to Join?

Given that employers would probably prefer you not to join a union, they are not the first people to ask! When you start your new job, ask colleagues or friends who are in the same occupational field which union(s) they are members of, and if they are happy with the service they are receiving. The answer will probably be clear.

For information on specific unions search the confederation sites below. Each includes a list of its member unions, and how to join.

A good introduction to Finnish unions is the joint trade union publication What Every Employee Should Know PDF. It includes:

  • Information on collective agreements and employment contracts
  • Finnish unions; how they work and how to join
  • Contact details for the main confederations, and other useful links
  • See also Major unions in prominent occupational fields

Main Finnish Trade Union Confederations

Individual Finnish unions are organised in three confederations, broadly along occupational and educational lines. They are SAK, STTK and AKAVA; whichever union you join it is almost certainly affiliated with one of these.

SAK - Central organization of Finnish Trade Unions
SAK is the oldest employee confederation in Finland, founded in 1907. It represents more than one million members in 21 affiliated trade unions. Members are from industry, the public sector, transport and private services. You cannot really define a "typical" member; local authority child minders, flight attendants, bus drivers, waiters, builders and paper mill employees are all working in sectors organized under the broad SAK umbrella.

www.sak.fi  in English / Finnish / Swedish

STTK - The Finnish Confederation of Professionals
Trade union confederation formed by 17 affiliated trade unions representing approximately 600 000 professional employees. Members are salaried employees in the public sector, private industry, and private service sector. About 75 % of members are women. Member groups include for example nurses, technical engineers, police officers, secretaries, and bank employees.

www.sttk.fi  in English / Finnish / Swedish

AKAVA - Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff in Finland
Akava has 35 affiliates with over half a million members. They have a high level of education and include employees, entrepreneurs and self-employed professionals in either the public or private sector, generally in expert, teaching and managerial positions. Membership in Akava's affiliates is based on field of study, degree, profession or position, in fields such as education, technology or medicine. Additionally, Akava has over 100,000 student members.

www.akava.fi  in English / Finnish / Swedish / French / Russian / Estonian / Spanish

Rights & Responsibilities of Finnish Employees

Employment Contract
A written employment contract is usually signed between employer and employee, and is highly desirous. A good contract should clearly state the details and scope of the job in question, including working hours, salary, benefits, incremental pay rises, pay days etc.

In Finland it is common to negotiate terms and conditions to be included in the contract, but any such terms must never be below the standard of the terms and conditions already set in the collective agreement negotiated by your union.. If you discover you have accepted terms and conditions worse than those in the collective agreement you can claim compensation. Contact your union.

More information: Finnish Employment Contract

Employee Rights

  • salary in accordance with the collective labour agreement or the collective bargaining contract
  • protection, which is provided for in law and in agreements
  • right to belong to a union
  • a safe and healthy work environment
  • See www.suomi.fi Rules of Working Life for information on employment regulations - En, Fi, Sw

Employee Responsibilities:

  • perform their tasks carefully
  • follow the supervisors’ instructions
  • refuse to take part in activities that are in direct competition with those of the employer
  • keep business and professional secrets confidential
  • observe the benefit of the employer
  • abide by the agreed working hours

Tip: Be aware how many days you can be on sick leave before your employer requires a doctor’s note.

Publications & References

Rules of Working Life Rules and regulations of employment, including Employment Contract, Wages, Working time, Holidays, Termination and more. Produced by suomi.fi. - En, Fi, Sw

Fair Play At Work - A guide to working life and trade unions in Finland, published by the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions, SAK. Multiple languages

What Every Employee Should Know - General information on the Finnish labour union movement as well as the benefits and rights which workers have in Finland. PDFjointly published by the labour confederations SAK, STTK and AKAVA, in 4 languages: English  Estonian  Russian  Finnish

Trade Union News from Finland
From 1997 Finnish journalist Juhani Artto provided reports and insights into Finnish industrial relations and trade unions with this comprehensive newspaper-format website in English.
Heikki Jokinen took the helm in 2013, and Trade Union News from Finland remains an excellent publication.
Juhani's archives from 1997-2013 are still available.
Trade Union News from Finland

Major unions in prominent occupational fields

Unemployment Funds

Labour Law

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