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 plansPlans for a wide-ranging union merger across all-three confederations broke down in 2016.
There are 2.2more than two million trade unionists in Finland. Not all of these are in the workforce, as retired people, the unemployed and students can belong to unions and around a quarter of union members are not workingand around a quarter of union members are not working. But even when this is taken into account, a very large proportion of employees are union members. A regularly repeatedThe annual work-life survey, undertaken by Statistics Finland foundas part of the Labour Force Survey, finds that union density was 7473% in 2008. This is higher than the estimates of the ICTWSS database of2017, equivalent to almost 1.6 million union membership, which put union density at 69.0% in 2011. members.
A separate study for the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, which was based on union administrative records and published in 2019, produced lower figures. It found that, at the end of 2017, there were a total of 2,043,000 members in the unions. However, of these 630,000 (30.8%), were not employees and were therefore not considered to be represented by the unions in negotiations. The non-employees include pensioners, students, the unemployed and the self-employed. This leaves a total of 1,414,000 employed members whose interests were represented by the union – equivalent to a density figure of 59.4%.
There are three trade union confederations in Finland. SAK is the largest with 1,008,040897,870 members (January 20152019). It predominantly organises manual workers, although around a third of its members are non-manual. STTKAKAVA is in second place with some 608,000608,000 members (2015January 2019). It organises graduate employees. STTK, previously the majority of non-manual workers. AKAVA, the third second largest Finnish union confederation, has 588,865 (2015) members and organises graduate employees.is now in third place with around 500,000 members, overwhelmingly non-manual workers. The three confederations work closely together and there has been a co-operation agreement between them since 1978. There is, however, some competition between STTK and AKAVA for graduate employees, with AKAVA showing greater growth., and a number of smaller unions, including the 11,000 strong police union, switched their affiliation from STTK to AKAVA during the ultimately unsuccessful merger discussions in 2015/16 (see below).
There are a handful of unions outside the three confederations, including the journalists union SJL.
The situation is, however, set to change dramatically through a major trade union merger, which will involve unions from all three confederations (see below).
The three confederations are made up of a number of separate affiliated unions, although recent years have seen a number of union mergers. Affiliated unions in the three confederations have their own constitutions and have considerable autonomy.
SAK has 2218 affiliated unions, primarily organised on an industry basis. The largest SAK affiliate is PAM, which represents workers in the private services sector and has 231,381216,991 members. The next largest is Teollisuusliitto (Industry), created out of a merger between the metal workers’ union, the industry union TEAM and the woodworkers’ union in January 2018, with 211,995 members. JHL, the union for the public and welfare sectors, which has 230,176 members and was created through a merger involving six unions in 2005. The metalworkers’ union with 144,182183,658 members, including its four specialist associated unions, is in third place. Together these three unions account for more than two-thirds (68.3%) of total SAK membership.
Affiliated unions have their own constitutions and have considerable negotiating autonomy.
AKAVA with 36 affiliates is organised occupationally. Its largest union, OAJ, which represents teachers, has 118,624, the second largest, TEK with 71,872 members, organises graduate engineers, and the third largest IL with around 70,000 organises professional engineers (all figures for 1 January 2019).
STTK has 1815 affiliated unions organised both by occupation and industry. Currently its largest affiliate is the health union TEHY with 160,000 members including 2520,000 students (20152018). The second largest is the Pro union, with 130120,000 members, of whom 11090,000 are in the labour market. (2019). Pro is the result of a merger between unions organising non-manual workers in private industry manufacturing and industrial services and a, including finance union. The third largest STTK union is Pardia,the practical nurses’ union SuPer which organises employees in central government, and has 6090,000 members.
AKAVA with 35 affiliates is organised occupationally. Its largest union, OAJ, which represents teachers, has 121,033 members, the second largest, TEK with 72,353 members, organises graduate engineers, and the third largest IL with 70,838, organises professional engineers (all figures for 1 January 2015).
Politically, SAK has no formal links to any political party but it is close to the social democratic party the SDP. Overall, the political links have become less important, although the three largest SAK unions provided money to the SDP in the election campaign in 2009, and the Left Alliance (Vasemmistoliitto) was also supported by some SAK unions to a more limited extent. The two other confederations emphasise that they are not party political. However, all three confederations were involved in opposition to some of the policies of the government led by Juha Sipilä, which was in office from 2015 to 2019. In particular they objected to the government’s plans to cut wages in September 2015 and organised stoppages against planned legislation reducing protection against dismissal in 2018.
In 2015, it appeared that a major merger between the main Finnish union confederations was in prospect. At the end of 2014 union leaders from 22 separate unions, including the largest affiliates of both SAK and STTK, had announced that they wanted to examine the possibility of creating a new single confederation for all Finland’s unions. This was followed by a meeting, involving delegates from 73 unions, which officially endorsed the move in January 2015. Both SAK and STTK are in favour of a merger, but AKAVA is opposed, although IL, the professional engineers union and the third largest in AKAVA is in favour. And by February 2015, 44 unions, including some from all three existing confederations had stated that they would participate in efforts to create a new union confederation. The unions set up aA steering committee, composed of representatives of the individual unions and , was set up to work towards the aim is that the creation of a new body should be. However, while SAK and STTK were initially in operation by favour of a merger, AKAVA remained opposed. Over time, it proved more difficult than originally hoped to overcome the obstacles to a merger, and in 2016, first individual STTK affiliates and then STTK itself withdrew from the process. On 1 June 2016 SAK announced that the merger would not go ahead, although STTK and SAK agreed that they needed to continue closer cooperation.
The level of trade union organisation in Finland remains high. The Statistics Finland work-life surveys show union density broadly stable in recent years, fluctuating between 76% and 73% over the period 2012 to 2017, and essentially unchanged on the 74% union density figure recorded when the statistics began to be collected in the way in 2002. One reason for the high figures is that unemployment insurance is typically obtained through union membership, although it is also possible to be insured through an unemployment fund without being a union member. The Statistics Finland surveys same statistics show membership that the proportion of employees who are just members of unemployment funds increasing but not unions has increased in recent years as an alternative to union membership. The surveys show union density falling slightly, going from 73% to 72% between 1984 and 1990, then rising to 798% in 1997, when the economic crisis of the 1990s made it sensible to be a union member and benefit from increased support during potential periods of unemployment, before falling back to 772002 to 18% in 20032012 and 7421% in 20082017.
The study published in 2019, based on administrative records shows a different picture. It found that between 2013, the date of the previous similar survey, and 2017 union density had fallen from 64.5% to 59.4%, a drop of 5.1 percentage points.
Unions increasingly recognise that they need to take active steps to recruit those joining the labour market if they are to maintain their strength and influence. Young people are a particular target, and the unions encourage students to join –, as the individual union figures show. AKAVA, for example, is the confederation with the largest proportion of students as members of its affiliated unions. It has more than 100116,000 students in membership, who belong to a special student council AOVA. AKAVA’s membership has increased sharply in recent years, going from 375,000 in 2000 to 588,865 in 2015members 19% of the total.
There is a high proportion
Women make up the majority of trade unionists in Finland. Overall, the Statistics Finland figures shows that union density is much higher among women in membership.– at 80% than among men – 66%, which means that 55% of union members are women. This confirmed by the administrative figures, which show union density among employees to be 66.4% for women and 52.3% for men Figures from the unionsindividual union confederations show that 46.0% of SAK’s membership is female, 75% of STTK’s and 52.752% of AKAVA’s and 77% of STTK’s (figures for 20152018).
 Three decades of working conditions: Findings of Finnish Quality of Work Life Surveys 1977-2008, by Anna-Maija Lehto and Hanna Sutela, 2009
 The ICTWSS Database: Database on Institutional Characteristics of Trade Unions, Wage Setting, State Intervention and Social Pacts, in 34 countries between 1960 and 2012, compiled by Jelle Visser, at the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies AIAS, University of Amsterdam, Version 4, April 2013 ( see http://www.uva-aias.net/207 )
 Three decades of working conditions: Findings of Finnish Quality of Work Life Surveys 1977-2008, by Anna-Maija Lehto and Hanna Sutela, 2009 Membership in trade unions and unemployment funds, 2002-2017, Ministry of Employment and the Economy, working life barometers, Work-life survey Statistics Finland http://pxnet2.stat.fi/PXWeb/pxweb/en/StatFin/StatFin__tym__tobarom/ (Accessed 28.07.2019)
Collective bargaining covers almost all Finnish employees and until recently it was largely 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, the economic crises that have hit Finland since then have led to a return to centralised bargaining, for some periods at least.
For almost 40 years up to 2007 collective bargaining in Finland used to take place at three levels, national, industry and company. The national level agreements (the general incomes policy settlements), covered the whole economy, and normally produced recommendations to negotiators at industry level, who then implemented them, with the possibility for some improvements at company level. The government often played a key role in these national-level negotiations, for example making changes in taxation or social security, dependent on their outcome. Although the system did not work every time – sometimes the negotiators could not agree at national level and there were only industry level agreements – and although there was no legal requirement to negotiate in this way, from 1968 to 2006 national bargaining was central to pay setting.
However, since 2007, when the private sector employers’ association EK refused to negotiate a new national agreement, this system has broken down. At the time, the employers insisted that negotiations should be at industry level to take account of their specific situations, and in May 2008 EK, the main employers’ association, issued new guidelines saying it would not return to national pay negotiations in the future. But in fact, since the publication of those guidelines, there have been long periods when national-level bargaining has resumed its central role.
These include a national two-year framework agreement, which was signed in October 2011 as a response to the economic crisis, the three-year Pact for Employment and Growth in 2013 which was also signed in a period of economic difficult for Finland, and the one-year Competitiveness Pact, signed in February 2016 in response to a government plan to cut public spending and raise taxes. All of these settlements followed the traditional pattern of involving government measures, generally in return to union concessions on pay, as well as negotiations between the national union confederations and the main employers’ association.
Since the ending of the Competitiveness Pact in 2017 – the precise date varied between agreements – subsequent negotiations have seen a return to industry-level rather than national bargaining. However, recent experience suggests that there is no guarantee that this will continue indefinitely
Whether the overall level of pay increases is set nationally or in individual industries, it is industry level agreements which set the rates paid and basic conditions. These rates and conditions apply to employers who are members of the employers’ association which has signed the agreement and there is also a mechanism to extend the agreement to all employers in the industry concerned. Since 2001 this has involved an independent commission, which formally decides whether an agreement should be generally binding on all employers (and employees) in the industry. The decision is largely based on whether the agreement covers more than half the employees in the industry concerned – calculated on the numbers employed by the members of the signatory employers’ association – or whether it is well-established in some other way. Disputes over the commission’s decisions can be taken to the labour court.
A study of the collective agreements signed in 2013-14 carried out for the Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy found that, of the 198 industry-level agreements in the private sector and for state-owned companies, 165 had been extended to all employers in the industry concerned. Making agreements generally binding increased the number of employees covered by these agreements from 922,997 to 1,175,285, and raised the collective bargaining coverage of employees in the private sector and state-owned companies from 75.5% (based just on employers belonging to signatory employers’ associations) to 84.3% (once employers covered by the generally binding declarations are added in).
As all employees of central government and the municipalities are covered by collective bargaining, this increases the overall coverage of collective agreements to 89.3% of employees in 2014. This is a slightly higher figure than 2008 when, using the same basis for calculation, collective bargaining coverage was 87.5%.
Below industry level there are company negotiations, which have become more important in recent years, and are generally conducted within the framework of industry level agreements rather than as stand-alone settlements. They can produce improvements on the industry settlement, but may also involve other changes. Employers have for some time pressed for greater flexibility at company level, and this has been accepted in some cases. For example, a number of 2018 and 2019 settlements, including the key agreement covering 100,000 in the technology industries, allowed the distribution of part of the increase to be negotiated locally.
As well as periodic national-level bargaining in the context of pay increases, unions and employers are also involved in the tripartite Economic Council of Finland. This is chaired by the Prime Minister and composed of key government ministers, the chief of the Bank of Finland, the heads of the main union confederations and representatives of the main employers’ associations and the agricultural and forestry producers. It meets more or less monthly, other than in the summer, and, among other things, it discusses the country’s economic development, use of national resources and competiveness, employment policy, the role of the public sector and welfare.
Who negotiates and when?
Negotiations at national level, when they take place (see above), are between the national union confederations and the national employers’ associations – primarily EK. Negotiations at industry level take place between the unions and the industry federation for that industry. They are normally negotiated by the affiliates of each confederation separately – for example, the study on the 2013-14 bargaining round found that, in the private and state-owned company sector, SAK affiliates had signed 114 agreements, STTK affiliates 49 and AKVA affiliates 13. Only 17 agreements had been signed jointly by unions from more than one confederation. At company level individual employers bargain with their local union organisations.
Negotiations used to set terms and conditions for between two and a half and three years. However, this is not fixed and, since 2009, agreements have been signed for shorter periods. For example, the Competiveness Pact signed in 2016 was for a year. The agreements signed in 2017-18 have mostly been for two or three years and this pattern may again be returning.
The subject of the negotiations
Negotiations at national level typically involve commitments from the government, as well as agreements on pay and conditions between the unions and the employers. Recent national-level negotiations have produced changes in tax and social security arrangements and had an impact on government spending plans. In the past, some of the key developments in Finnish industrial relations, such as rights for trade union representatives, or protection against dismissal, as well as broader labour market issues, like training rights, have been the subject of national negotiations.
Industry and company level agreements cover normal pay and conditions issues, and, in some cases, incorporate wider issues.
There is no system in Finland for setting a single national minimum wage. However, most employees are covered by the rates set out in the collective agreement covering the industry in which they work, either because their employer is a member of the employers’ associations that has signed it, or because the agreement has been made binding on to all employers in the industry under the extension procedure (see above). For those without an agreement, the Employment Contracts Act provides that employees must receive “normal and reasonable pay” for the work performed.
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.)
Workplace representation in Finland is essentially provided through the trade unions, with their high levels of membership. The workplace union representative together with his or her colleagues has the information and consultation rights, which in countries like Germany or Austria are exercised by works council members.
Trade union representatives are appointed on the basis of legally binding collective agreements signed between the employers and unions at national level rather than through specific laws. The first agreement specifically on union representation at the workplace was signed in 1969, and in 1970 legislation was adopted which included special protection for trade union representatives.
In 1978 a further key piece of legislation, the Act on Cooperation within Undertakings, was passed. This Act, including later amendments, provided a framework that gave union representatives information, consultation and, in some cases, co-decision making rights in companies employing 30 people or more (now 20, see below).
In the years that followed, there was criticism from the unions that in some cases the information and consultation rights provided by the Act on Cooperation were more formal than real and were often limited only to information about cuts in employee numbers. In 2003, therefore, the government agreed to reform the legislation, setting up a working party, with representatives of the unions, employers and government to do so.
This process produced a new Act on Cooperation within Undertakings, which came into force in July 2007 and completely replaced the previous legislation. As well as reducing the employment threshold before the law applies from 30 to 20 employees (from January 2008), it also aimed to set out more clearly the employer’s obligation to negotiate with the workforce before taking any decision which might affect employees, either directly or indirectly.
In 2019, the Act on Cooperation was again reviewed, with a working group producing an interim report on possible changes in June. The report from the working group, in which the unions were involved, found that the regulations were too complicated and focussed on formalities rather than genuine cooperation. Less formal procedures were therefore proposed, although it is likely that there will continue to be more precise rules where changes having a significant impact on the workforce, such as redundancies are being planned. It is intended that the government will come forward with proposals for new legislation in 2020.
Even under the current legislation, there is no requirement to set up a specific structure, or that employees should choose specific individuals for cooperation negotiations. In most cases the employee representatives involved in cooperation negotiations will be the existing union representatives. However, where a majority of employees are not entitled to participate in the election of a union representative (because they are either not covered by a collective agreement or are not union members), they can, if a majority of this group wish to do so, elect their own representative, for a period of two years. (They can also do this if they have chosen not to elect a union representative, even if they have a right to do so.) If there are no representatives, the employer can deal with all the employees.
In addition, under separate health and safety legislation, safety representatives must be elected when a workplace has 10 or more employees.
Figures from Eurofound’s 2013 European Company Survey show that 70% of establishments in Finland with at least 10 employees have some form of official employee representation. In most cases this will be through the unions at the company, but in some cases it will be the individuals involved in cooperation negotiations. The Finnish figure is more than double the EU28 average of 32%. As elsewhere in Europe, larger organisations are much more likely to have such a structure than smaller ones. The survey shows all establishments with more than 250 employees having representation, and 95% of those with between 50 and 249 employees. However even in smaller workplaces in Finland, those with between 10 and 49 employees, two thirds (68%) have employee representation.
Numbers and structure
The basic framework for the appointment of union representatives is set out in the national agreements. Each workplace has a senior trade union representative, who plays a crucial role, with additional trade union representatives for different departments and groups of employees. The exact numbers are fixed by agreement at either industry or company level. Because of the structure of the Finnish trade union movement there are normally separate unions representing the various groups of employees (manual workers, non-manual staff and more senior employees) and they usually have their own representatives.
All private companies which have 20 or more employees are covered by the 2007 Act on Cooperation within Undertakings, although some of the terms of the Act do not apply to organisations with between 20 and 29 employees. This threshold is calculated as an average of the previous two years, includingboth part-time and temporary employees.
As well as reducing the employment threshold, the 2007 Act also extended the coverage to non-commercial bodies such as foundations. The central government and public services provided by local government are not covered.
The Act states that there should be cooperation between the employer and the employees of the organisation, through “cooperation negotiations”. These take place between the employer and either the individual employee or, if several employees are involved, the representative of the group of employees concerned.
There is no requirement to set up a specific structure, or that employees should choose specific individuals for cooperation negotiations. In most cases the employee representatives involved in cooperation negotiations will be the existing union representatives. However, where a majority of employees are not entitled to participate in the election of a union representative (because they are either not covered by a collective agreement or are not union members), they can, if a majority of this group wish to do so, elect their own representative, for a period of two years. (They can also do this if they have chosen not to elect a union representative, even if they have a right to do so.) If there are no representatives, the employer can deal with all the employees.
If the issues to be discussed relate to more than one group of employees, there should be a joint meeting between the employer and the representatives of all the groups of employees involved. This procedure –dealing with issues at a joint meeting with representatives of all employee groups – can also be adopted for all matters, whether or not they relate to several groups of employees, but only if all those concerned have agreed to this. If the employer and the representative of the employee group choose to do so, they can set up a more permanent cooperation committee composed of representatives of the employees and the employer. Both sides must agree on its composition in a separate agreement, which generally has a six month notice period. However, it should be emphasised that cooperation committees are not obligatory.
Tasks and rights
Trade union representatives at the workplace both represent the interests of the union and its members to the employer and represent the union to its members. Specifically they ensure that the employer observes the terms of the appropriate collective agreements and can also be involved in negotiating new ones. At the same time, they must ensure that union members observe the collective agreements that bind them, as the union would be held responsible for any infringement of their terms.
Local trade union representatives also normally exercise the rights provided in the Act on Cooperation within Undertakings (334/2007). As already noted, this is very flexible in terms of the mechanism for cooperation. However, it is much more specific on the issues covered. Depending on the topic, employee representatives have a right to information, consultation – through involvement in cooperation negotiations – and, in some limited cases, they take the decisions, although within budgets set by the employer.
Employee representatives have a right to regular information on the financial position of the business/organisation. This includes the annual accounts, as presented to the appropriate authorities plus, at least once a year, a comprehensive report on the organisation’s financial position, including its prospects, employment, profitability and cost structure. If the employee representatives request it, the information on future prospects should be presented to all employees, and in companies with between 20 and 29 employees the whole report should be presented to the complete workforce. The employer should also give employee representatives statistical data on pay, including information broken down by occupational groups, and information on the numbers employed on a part-time and fixed-term basis, if requested. The employer should also present an annual report on the basis of which external labour, such as sub-contractors, is to be used, including details of where they are to be employed and for how long. Employee representatives also have a right to ask questions on the information they have received and the employer should respond “within a reasonable time”.
More specifically in the area of employment, the cooperation negotiations should cover:
the use of temporary agency workers;,
internal communications,; and
other issues arising from other legislation, such as equality and alcohol and drugs policies.
On recruitment, the cooperation negotiations should cover the general principles and methods used in recruitment as well as the information to be provided to the new employee and expected from him or her. (This only applies in organisations employing 30 people or more.)
On training, the employer must draw up an annual plan in the cooperation negotiations covering personnel and training objectives. This should include information on the number of people employed and their level of development,, the principles behind the use of various forms of employment, an assessment of employees’ occupational skills, annual training objectives and the procedures to be used to implement the plan..
On the use of temporary agency workers, the employer should inform the employee representatives of those groups whose work would be affected by the use of agency staff and, if they object, the agency staff should not be taken on, until the cooperation negotiations have been concluded. (This delay does not apply to organisations employing fewer than 30 employees, where the work is urgent and short-term or where the permanent employees do not normally do the work which is to be given to agency workers.)
In organisations with 30 or more employees, there should also be cooperation negotiations on the methods to be used for internal communications.
and the following specific items: Other issues arising from other legislation – equality plans, drug and alcohol policies (including the use of drug testing), the use of surveillance equipment, rules on the use of e-mail, and setting up and ending profit bonus systems and personnel funds – should also be dealt with through cooperation negotiations (although only in organisations employing 30 or more)equality plans, drug and alcohol policies (including the use of drug testing), the use of surveillance equipment, rules on the use of e-mail, and setting up and ending profit bonus systems and personnel funds.
On all these employment issues, the cooperation negotiations should adopt the following format. The employer should take the initiative in informing the employee representatives about the issues “in good time” before the negotiations start, although the employee representatives can also ask for a particular issue to be raised. (The employer must either do this or provide a written report setting out why this is not necessary.) The employer should provide the information “necessary for handling the matter”, and, once an issue is being discussed, it should be dealt with “in the spirit of cooperation with the representatives of the personnel groups concerned in order to obtain consensus”. This should occur before any decision is taken. The result of the negotiations should be set out in the minutes of the meeting and the employer should either inform the employee representatives or the whole workforce as to what has been decided.
The legislation makes clear that there is no requirement for agreement to be reached on these issues and that the employer has fulfilled his or her obligations when the issue has been discussed in a spirit of cooperation based on information provided in good time.
Similar arrangements apply when employees are affected by changes in the way the business operates or organises its work. These changes include closures or relocation, purchase of machinery and equipment, changes in the products or services offered, other work changes or the use of external labour. The impact of these changes could be alterations in duties, working methods, working premises, as well as changes in working time or breaks. (Changes which involve cuts in staff numbers are dealt with under a different procedure.) In all these cases the employer should present the issue to employee representatives in good time and with adequate information and should discuss the issue in cooperation negotiations “in the spirit of cooperation to obtain consensus”. However, as with the employment issues listed above, there is no obligation to reach an agreement. Transfers and mergers are dealt with in the same way (except where jobs will be lost), although here both the organisation from which the employees are being transferred and the organisation to which they are going must provide information.
Where changes or transfers involve the loss of jobs, long-term lay-offs or a switch from full-time to part-time, the procedure is slightly different. The employer must provide information to employee representatives at least five days before the start of the cooperation negotiations (unless the collective agreement provides otherwise). The information should cover the reasons for the measures, an initial estimate of their extent (for example, the number of jobs to be lost), the method the employer proposes to use to select the employees affected, and a timetable for implementation. However, the employer is also required to provide employee representatives with a plan of action to promote employment, which should be drawn up with the public authorities, and the cooperation negotiations have to consider ways of limiting the numbers affected and mitigating the consequences for those who lose their jobs. The time scale is also spelled out more clearly where jobs are threatened. Where 10 or more jobs are to go, the cooperation negotiations must last six weeks (two weeks if fewer than 10 employees are to lose their jobs or the organisation only employs between 20 and 29 employees). At the end of the negotiations, which must be conducted in a “spirit of cooperation to obtain consensus” the decision remains with the employer.
There are, however, some areas where different rules apply, as they are seen as areas where agreement should be reached between the employer and the employee representatives if at all possible. These are:
the amount and content of cooperation training to be provided;
work rules – such as informing about absences, and the disciplinary code (only where 30 or more are employed);
rules on suggestion schemes (30 or more employees);
rules on the allocation of company accommodation (30 or more employees);
the use of rooms for staff (canteens or workplace childcare facilities); and
the use of funds allocated to recreational activities, such as sports clubs or cultural groups.
If no agreement can be reached, some issues are left to the employer to decide and some to the employee representatives. The employer is able to decide specific matters within the working rules, the rules of any suggestion scheme and the principles for the allocation of company accommodation. However, the employer has no right to confirm the working rules as a whole, and the employee representatives decide on the content of cooperation training, the actual allocation of company accommodation, the use of rooms for staff and the principles for the allocation of funds for recreational activities. (This decision-making power is limited by the fact that it is the employers who decide on the amount of money to be provided in these areas.)
Election and term of office
The trade union representatives are normally elected by union members in the workplace and their status as representatives is then confirmed by the local trade union organisation. The term of office is set by collective agreement.
Employee representatives, for the purposes of the Act on Cooperation within Undertakings, are normally the union representatives, although they may be the elected safety representatives, if the issue under discussion concerns health and safety. It is important to emphasise that there is no requirement to set up a specific structure, or that employees should choose specific individuals for cooperation negotiations. However, where there are no union representatives, or where non-union employees are in the majority in a particular group of workers, that group can elect someone to represent them for a period of two years. There are no specific rules in the legislation setting out any conditions for candidates or precise election procedures. The Act on Cooperation within Undertakings simply states that,“The election or other procedure for choosing the representative shall be so organised that all employees belonging to the aforesaid majority [the non-union employees] have anopportunity to take part in the election of the cooperation representative”.
Protection against dismissal
Trade union representatives and any other employee representatives can normally only be dismissed in cases of misconduct if a majority of the workers they represent agrees to their dismissal (Employment Contracts Act (Chapter 7, Section 10)). They can also be dismissed if the type of work they do no longer exists, for example because of a reduction in the demand for the work or because the employer is bankrupt. However, here dismissal is only lawful if their work ceases completely and no other suitable work is available.
The same protections apply to a non-union employee chosen as a representative in a non-union area to take part in cooperation negotiations under the Act on Cooperation within Undertakings.
Time-off and other resources
Trade union representatives have the right to sufficient paid time-off to undertake their duties. This is specified in collective agreements and in larger workplaces both the senior trade union representative and the elected safety representative may be fully released from their normal work.
The employer should by law provide a room for meetings during rest periods and outside working time and collective agreements often improve on this. Again in larger workplaces the senior trade union representative will have an office.
Employee representatives as specified in the Act on Cooperation (in practice these are normally union representatives) have a right to paid time-off from work to carry out their duties as employee representatives, as well as for cooperation training, although the time of the cooperation training has to be agreed with the employer. In addition they representatives. They also have the right to use experts, although these experts should normally be from within the organisation. They are given paid time off to prepare their expert advice.
Training rights for trade union members and representatives depend on agreements reached between the union and the employers. However, a number of trade unions and employers' federations agree an annual list of the courses for which participants can are paid compensation for loss of earnings during the course and where the meal costs of the training provider are reimbursed. The precise arrangements vary from industry to industry.
Employee representatives as specified in the Act on Cooperation, who, as already noted,are normally union representatives, have a legal right to paid time-off from work for cooperation training, although the time of the cooperation training has to be agreed with the employer.
Representation at group level
There is also a right to employee representation at group level in companies with 500 or more employees in Finland, and these rights have been strengthened by new legislation (Act on Finnish and Community-wide Groups of Undertakings) which came into force in 2007. The standard arrangements allow each company within the group with at least 20 employees to choose an employee representative to take part in the cooperation procedure at group level. The choice of employee representatives should ensure that there is at least one representative from each of the employee groups in the company (manual, non-manual and more senior staff).
However, under the standard rules, the cooperation procedure at group level is essentially limited to the provision of information. At group level the employer should provide:
a comprehensive report on the financial position of the group;
information on the groups prospects in terms of production, employment, profitability and cost structure, as well as likely changes in employment and the need for specific skills;
plans for expansion, reduction or closure of any parts of the group's operations; and
information on planned changes in product ranges or services, which might affect employees.
The information should be provided in such a way as to enable the cooperation negotiations at lower level (in individual companies) to function effectively.
Instead of these standard rules, the employee representatives and the group can, if they wish, agree other arrangements for cooperation at group level, covering both the choice of the employee representatives and the content and procedures for cooperation.
Eurofound (2015), Third European Company Survey – Overview report: Workplace practices – Patterns, performance and well-being, Figures for Table 44
Workers in companies with more than 150 employees have the right to participate in management decisions. The mechanism for doing so can be agreed between the company and the employee representatives. However, if there is no agreement, it is up to the company to decide the level at which employee are represented in a single-tier board, in a supervisory board or at operating level.
In companies with 150 or more workers in Finland, employees have the right through their representatives to participate in the company’s key decisions (Act on Personnel Representation in the Company Administration (725/1990)).
The mechanism for doing this can be agreed through the cooperation procedure, although at least two of the employee groups (manual, non-manual and more senior staff) must agree and together they must represent a majority of employees for the agreement to be valid.
If there is no agreement with the company and provided at least two employee groups representing a majority of employees in the company ask for it, the statutory provisions for employee representation in decision-making apply. These give the right to the employees to nominate their representatives onto decision-making bodies. However, it is the company that decides whether these representatives participate at the level of the board of directors, in a specially set-up supervisory board or at management level for the company’s operating units.
Under the statutory provisions, there must be between one and four employee representatives, who must be employees of the company and they may make up one fifth of the body on which they sit (be equivalent to a quarter of the other members). They are chosen by the employee groups, with an election if the groups cannot agree. The election follows the same procedure as the election of health and safety representatives. This is that the election is organised by the employees, and in sucha manner “that provides all employees at the workplace with an opportunity to participate in the election, and that does not cause any unnecessary inconvenience to the activities of the workplace”. The representative must be a “legally competent person” and the may not be “bankrupt or under a ban on business operations”.They serve for the same term of office as other members of the body on which they sit, but if nothing else has been agreed the maximum length of office is three years.
They have the same rights as other members of the board, or other body, although they cannot participate in decisions on industrial disputes, pay and conditions or the recruitment and dismissal of senior managers.
At any time the statutory provisions can be replaced by an agreement with the company, provide the conditions set out above apply.
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.
European Works Councils
Finnish members of the special negotiating body (SNB) for the EWC are chosen by the employees, with the health and safety delegates representing the largest groups of workers organising the procedure, if it cannot be agreed in some other way. In practice they are usually chosen by the local union representatives at the workplace in line with local practice. There is not normally a specific election. The legislation does not specifically exclude external union representatives from being members, but it also does not specifically include them.
The situation is the same where an EWC is set up under the fallback procedure in the annex to the directive, although in this case only employees may be members.
Finnish members of the special negotiating body (SNB) for the European Company are chosen by the employees, with the health and safety delegates representing the largest groups of workers organising the procedure, if it cannot be agreed in some other way. In practice they are usually chosen by the local union representatives at the workplace in line with local practice. There is not normally a specific election. The legislation does not specifically exclude external union representatives, but nor does it include them.
The situation is the same for choosing the Finnish members of a representative body set up under the fallback provisions of the directive, and for choosing employee representatives at board level in a European Company. However, in the case of the representative body, only employees may be members. In the case of employee representatives at board level, the legislation neither specifically includes nor excludes external union representatives.
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.
Basic approach at workplace level
While employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees, Finnish legislation also aims to make it possible for employees to participate in and influence the way health and safety issues are dealt with at workplace level. The legislation lays down a range of consultation and information rights and sets out the structures intended to ensure this. However, it makes clear that employers and employees can agree on other ways of involving employees in health and safety, provided that they offer the same degree of employee participation and do not restrict or eliminate the rights provided by legislation.
Employee health and safety bodies
In workplaces with at least 10 employees, the employees are entitled to choose one health and safety representative (työsuojeluvaltuutettu) and two deputies to represent them in dealings with the employer and to keep contact with the health and safety authorities. Non-manual staff can also decide to choose a separate safety representative and two deputies, if they wish. It is also possible for health and safety representatives and deputies to be chosen in smaller workplaces.
Where there are at least 20 employees in the workplace an occupational health and safety committee (työsuojelutoimikunta) should be set up. This is a joint management/employee body, although employee representatives are in a majority (see below).
Numbers and structure
In all workplaces with 10 or more employees a health and safety representative plus two deputies must be elected. It is also possible to have a health and safety representative in workplaces with fewer than 10 employees. Both manual and non-manual employees have the right to elect a health and safety representative plus two deputies, although a single representative plus deputies can be elected for both groups if this has been agreed. There is no requirement to have a larger number of health and safety representatives in bigger workplaces, although this is possible, if company-level agreements define different parts of the organisation as separate workplaces. For this to happen, these separate parts must have some degree of functional autonomy, giving separate health and safety representatives a real role to play.
Where there at least 20 employees, an occupational health and safety committee should be set up, with four, eight or 12 members. The number should vary with the size of the workplace and other factors, but no specific thresholds are set out in the legislation. One quarter of the places on the committee are for representatives of the employer, with the rest going to employee representatives. However, these are split between manual and non-manual representatives, with half the seats going to representatives of the larger employee group and the final quarter going representatives of the smaller group.
The committee is normally chaired by the employer or the employers’ representative and one of the employer’s representatives is also responsible for preparing matters to be dealt with by the committee. The company’s health and safety manager (see below) participates in the committee meetings, irrespective of whether he or she is a member of the committee.
As in other areas, it is also possible to agree different arrangements for cooperation on health and safety, although this should ensure the same degree of employee participation as that provided by the structure set out in the legislation.
Research by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work in 2014 found that 60% of workplaces in Finland had health and safety representatives and 34% had a health and safety committee. These are both above the EU-28 averages, which are 58% for health and safety representatives and 21% for health and safety committees. (The figures are for workplaces with five or more employees.)
Tasks and rights
The legislation lists a number of issues which should be handled through cooperation between the employer and the employees. These include:
matters immediately affecting the safety and health of any employee;
the investigation of risks and hazards at the workplace, and the results of surveys carried out by an occupational health care organisation;
workplace health promotion programmes;
matters relating to the organisation of work or workload;
training, guidance and induction on health and safety legislation; and
statistics on the work environment and the state of the workforce.
The health and safety representative represents the employees in dealing with these issues and has a responsibility to become familiar with the health and safety issues affecting the workplace and the appropriate health and safety legislation. He or she also participates in inspections or investigations if the expert carrying out these inspections or investigations considers that this is necessary.
The health and safety representative has a right to information on health and safety, including the documents the employer is obliged to keep on health and safety issues. He or she also has the right to examine the employer’s arrangements for occupational health care, both where it is provided directly by the employer and where it is provided by an external occupational health care organisation.
The health and safety representative also has, in the words of the legislation, a right to interrupt work if it causes “immediate and serious danger to an employee’s life or health”. The health and safety representative is required to inform the employer of the interruption either in advance or, if this is not possible, immediately afterwards, and he or she should also not disrupt work by more than is necessary to protect health and safety.
Frequency of meetings
The legislation does not specify how often the health and safety committee should meet.
Election and term of office
Health and safety representatives and their deputies are chosen by an election organised by the employees, with a separate election for non-manual employees, if required. If necessary the labour inspector can intervene to ensure that an election is conducted, and where there is a collective agreement covering health and safety cooperation at the workplace, the union can also intervene.
The period of office is normally two years, although this can be extended to four years, if the health and safety committee agrees that this would be sensible. Broader agreements on health and safety between the employer and the employees (see section on basic approach) can also provide for longer periods of office.
The elected health and safety representatives are also automatically members of the health and safety committee. Other employee members of the committee are elected in the same way as the health and safety representatives.
The period of office of the health and safety committee is two years, although, as with health and safety representatives, this can be extended through a collective agreement between the employer and the employees.
Resources, time off and training
The employer should provide a room for the health and safety representatives and the health and safety committee for their work and for meetings. In addition they have a right to use office and communications equipment to carry out their duties.
Health and safety representatives must be given paid time off to carry out their duties. The amount of time off provided should take a number of factors into account including:
number of employees represented;
the geographical spread of the workplace;
the number of individual work areas;
the nature of the work to be carried out; and
factors relating to the organisation of work.
The precise amount of time off will often be regulated by collective agreement, with many including detailed provisions linking time-off rights to employee numbers, and in some cases allowing for full-time health and safety representatives.
However, where time-off rights are not regulated by collective agreement, the minimum amount of paid time off to be provided in workplaces with at least 10 employees is four hours over a four-week period, unless this release would cause considerable inconvenience, in which case it can be temporarily postponed. These minimum time-off rights apply to the health and safety representative representing the employee group (manual or non-manual) most exposed to hazards at the workplace.
The employer should also pay reasonable compensation for any necessary duties carried out outside normal working hours.
Health and safety representatives and their deputies also have the right to paid time off for training. The training should be free for those being trained and should be provided within two months of their election.
The time-off rights of health and safety representatives also apply, as appropriate, to employee members of the health and safety committee.
Protection against dismissal
Health and safety representatives can only be dismissed for a reason relating to their conduct if a majority of those they represent agree with the dismissal. In the case of redundancies or reorganisation, they can only be dismissed if their work has ceased completely and they cannot be retrained or redeployed.
Other elements of workplace health and safety
All employers are required to nominate an individual, as a health and safety manager, or to take that position themselves. The task of the health and safety manager is to help the employer with health and safety expertise and to cooperate with the employees and the health and safety authorities. The health and safety manager should be appropriately qualified in relation both to health and safety legislation and the risks present in the workplace, and should be able to deal with all the issues which are subject to cooperation with health and safety representatives.
Occupational health care can be outsourced to an external body or provided by the employer directly. The employers, employees or their representatives and occupational health care specialists all need to cooperate to promote occupational health at the workplace.
The ministry responsible for health and safety at work is the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, (Sosiaali- ja terveysministeriö) The body responsible for monitoring compliance with health and safety laws and regulations is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Työsuojeluviranomainen), which is under the direct control of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.
Trade unions and employers are able to influence health and safety policy primarily through their participation in the Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, which also includes government representatives. Unions and employers also have an influence on the implementation of health and safety policy through regional tripartite occupational safety and health boards.
Finnish health and safety legislation has for many years dealt with psychosocial risks. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (738/2002) sets out the need to eliminate hazards to the “physical and mental health of employees” (Section 1) and refers specifically to workloads, violence and harassment. It states that the employer must take action “if it is noticed that an employee while at work is exposed to workloads in a manner which endangers his or her healthy working conditions” (Section 25); that “jobs entailing an evident threat of violence shall be so arranged that the threat of violence and incidents of violence are prevented as far as possible” (Section 27); and that “if harassment or other inappropriate treatment of an employee occurs at work and causes hazards or risks to the employee’s health”, the employer should take appropriate action (Section 28).
Act on Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement and Cooperation on Occupational Safety and Health at Workplaces No 44/2006
Occupational Safety and Health Act No 738/2002
Occupational Health Care Act No 1383/2001
Laki työsuojelun valvonnasta ja työpaikan työsuojeluyhteistoiminnasta 44/2006
 Second European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2016
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.
According to the European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS, 2010) the incidence of share ownership schemes in Finland is 2.1% (in companies with more than 250 employees).1 var obj = document.getElementById('note_hidden'); obj.value = obj.value + '1
The incidence of companies with employee financial participation schemes grew in Finland in the 1990s. Up to 1990 there was no state-promoted participation system. The introduction of the personnel funds and profit bonus system was one of the first steps in creating the legal framework. This was amended recently by the Personnel Funds Act 934/2010, coming into force in 2011.
This Act concerns mainly the area of deferred profit sharing and the creation of personnel funds. Personnel funds are the only area of workers’ financial participation that is negotiated collectively between trade unions and employers.1 var obj = document.getElementById('note_hidden'); obj.value = obj.value + '1
Finnish trade unions show general approval of profit-sharing and this is positively reflected in both legislation and implementation in companies.
For a long time social partners concentrated their negotiations on promoting employee funds, with these being supported both by trade unions and employer organizations.1 var obj = document.getElementById('note_hidden'); obj.value = obj.value + '1