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Trade Unions

Levels of union density vary widely across the 28 EU states plus Norway, from around 70% in Finland, Sweden and Denmark to 8% in France. However, density is not the only indication of unions’ capacity to mobilise workers. In most countries union membership has been falling in recent years, and, even where it is growing, it has not generally kept pace with the rise in the numbers employed. Most European states have several competing union confederations, often divided on political grounds, although ideological differences may now be less important than in the past. Union mergers continue to remake the trade union landscape, although generally within rather than1 between confederations.

Collective Bargaining

The proportion of employees covered by collective bargaining in the 28 EU states plus Norway varies from well over 90% to 10%. The countries at the top of the table either have high levels of union membership, as in the Nordic countries, or have legal structures which ensure that collective agreements have a wide coverage. In the countries at the bottom of the table, company level bargaining dominates. In some countries, such as Belgium, Italy or Sweden, there are links between different levels of bargaining but in others, like Luxembourg or Cyprus, various levels simply coexist. Overall the trend seems to be towards greater decentralisation and the crisis has accelerated this.

 

Health and Safety Representation

The main figures representing employees in health and safety are the specially elected health and safety representatives, although in larger workplaces (those with at least 20 employees) a health and safety committee – a body with both employee and management representatives – should also be set up. The intention is that employees should cooperate with the employer in ensuring a healthy and safe workplace, although they also have the right to interrupt work in the case of imminent and serious danger.

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Workplace Representation

Employee representation at the workplace is primarily provided by the union representatives, or elected representative if there are no union representatives, rather than through statutory structures. Legislation gives union representatives the right to be involved in so-called “cooperation negotiations” in companies and other organisations with 20 or more employees. (The employment threshold was reduced from 30 in 2007.)

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Workplace Representation

Employee representation varies across Europe, combining both representation through local union bodies and through works councils or similar structures elected by all employees. In the 28 EU states plus Norway, there are four states where the main representation is through works councils with no statutory provision for unions at the workplace; eight where representation is essentially through the unions; another 12 where it is a mixture of the two; and a further five where unions were the sole channel, but legislation now offers additional options. In many countries, national legislation implementing the EU’s information and consultation directive has complicated the picture. One common feature of most states is that unions play a central role.

 

Collective Bargaining

Until recently, collective bargaining in Finland was predominantly centralised with a national agreement setting the framework for pay increases at lower levels. In the 2007 pay round bargaining appeared to have permanently shifted to industry level with increasing room for company level bargaining on top. However, in both 2011 and 2013, national agreements were again signed, marking a return to centralised bargaining, for the time being at least.

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Trade Unions

Union density is high in Finland, with almost three-quarters of employees in unions. Individual unions, which have considerable autonomy, are organised in three confederations, broadly along occupational and educational lines. The three confederations are SAK, STTK and AKAVA. However, there are plans for a wide-ranging merger.3

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European-level Representation

The mechanisms for choosing representatives from Finland for European level bodies – both European Works Councils and the European Company – are not set out in detail by the legislation. Representatives are to be chosen by employees, usually by the union representatives in the workplace, in line with local practice and without a specific election. The fallback provisions only come into effect if no agreement on the method of selection can be reached.

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Financial Participation

Since the 1990s employee financial participation and profit-sharing in particular have been encouraged by the Finnish government, mainly via new legal regulations and initiatives. The most recent reform came into force on 1 January 2011.

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Directive on Takeover Bids (2004/25/EC)

The 13th Company Law Directive (2004/25/EC, adopted 21.04.2004) regulates bids to take over companies listed on a stock markets. The main goal of the directive is to encourage takeovers in Europe by creating a legal framework for takeover bids, while at the same time providing minimum standards of protection for minority shareholders, and in theory other parties, such as employees.

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