Tuesday, 17 February 2009
Should Finnish and Estonian unions merge?
[Contribution by Juhani Artto] - Should the Finnish and Estonian unions merge? In Jyrki Raina's opinion the idea is worth serious analysis and consideration. His comment was recently published in Ahjo, the magazine of the Finnish Metalworkers' union. Raina works as the secretary general of the Nordic IN, a federation of 22 Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Icelandic unions that represent 1.2 million employees in the various industrial sectors and mining. Nordic unions have supported Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian unions since the early 1990s. However, the support has not lead to a renewal of the Baltic trade unions, which has caused frustration in the Nordic unions, Raina writes. In the Baltic countries the organising rate has remained low and the influence of the trade union movement on working conditions has remained relatively weak. According to Raina, in the three Baltic countries there are discussions on forming larger industrial unions but “the process is painfully slow”. Larger unions, created by mergers of smaller unions, would be able to organise, offer services to rank and file members and negotiate national collective agreements, Raina envisions. The idea to consider closer cooperation and, in the longer term, a merger of Finnish and Estonian unions was originally presented by Matti Huutola, the vice chairman of Finland's largest union confederation SAK. Harri Taliga, the president of the Confederation of Estonian Trade Unions (EAKL), has commented positively on Huutola’s idea. No doubt, mergers would give more impetus to trade union activity in Estonia. But it could have positive consequences also in Finland, where a large proportion of Estonian labour has remained unorganised, and thus relatively easy prey for irresponsible employers. In his column, Raina reminds us that in the USA, Canada, the UK and Ireland, there are unions that are active in two countries.