1. Brief Description of Employees’ and Employers’ Organizations
The trade unions and employer organisations enter into collective bargaining agreements and agree on collective salary increases, as well as take part in the tripartite negotiations regarding labour policy questions such as pension entitlement issues.
There are three main levels of trade unions: Local trade unions, national federations of member local unions, and confederations which are the peak organisations made up of affiliated federations. Nationwide collective bargaining agreements are concluded between the federations.
2. Rights and Importance of Trade Unions
Employees are free to join trade unions according to the principle of freedom of association. In some business fields, such as in metal work, stevedoring, transportation, and information technology the trade unions represent strong importance in labour market. The trade unions or their local entities do not as such take part in co-operation negotiations in relation to collective dismissals, as the shop stewards elected by the employees that are union members are normally representing the voice of employees and the trade union.
3. Types of Representation
The personnel groups may be represented by shop stewards, elected representatives or co-operation representatives. The most typical form of employee representation is a shop steward referred to in collective agreements applicable to the employer under the Collective Agreements Act, or in case the employees do not have a shop steward representing them, a representative elected pursuant to the Employment Contracts Act. However, normally the top management do not have a shop steward or elected representative, rather each of them represents him/herself individually.
4. Number of Representatives
Primarily the employer and the employees agree on the number of representatives. The number can vary depending on the conditions of the workplace in question, for instance the size of the employer enterprise. Certain collective agreements may, however, have regulations regarding the number of shop stewards.
5. Appointment of Representatives
In general, each personnel group separately elects among themselves a shop steward. Only the employees, who are members of an employee organisation that has entered into the collective bargaining agreement, may participate in the election of the shop steward. The shop steward is elected for a fixed-term, typically for a term of two years.
Employees who do not have a shop steward referred to in a collective bargaining agreement applicable to the employer under the Collective Agreements Act may elect a representative from among themselves. The election of the employee representative is not regulated and, thus, the employees may, for example, freely decide the date of the election and the candidates.
The co-operation representative referred to above is elected on a majority decision.
6. Tasks and Obligations of Representatives
The shop steward’s primary task is to represent the employees in matters related to the application of labour legislation and collective bargaining agreements. The shop steward should promote the communication between the employer and the employees. Furthermore, the shop steward is obligated to represent the employees in negotiations and hearings possibly leading up to lay-offs or terminations, in preparatory investigations and advise employees in hearings prior to the termination of an employment relationship.
The employee representative’s primary tasks are those provided for in Finnish labour legislation. The employees may further take majority decisions to authorize the elected representative to represent them in matters of employment relationships and working conditions specified in the authorization.
The shop stewards and elected representatives are entitled to receive the information they need for carrying out the duties referred to in law according to the provisions laid down in the collective bargaining agreement or according to the authorization. In addition, they shall be reasonably released from work obligations for taking care of the representative duties of the personnel group they represent. The employer must compensate for any loss of earnings caused thereby. Release from work obligations in order for the elected representative to carry out other duties and compensation for any loss of earnings must be agreed on with the employer.
7. Employees’ Representation in Management
The Act on Personnel Representation in the Administration of Undertakings (725/90 as amended) is applicable to companies or other legal entities that employ regularly at least 150 employees in Finland. Pursuant to the Act, the employer and the representatives of the employees can agree on personnel representation in order to promote the personnel’s participation in decision-making in executive, supervisory or advisory bodies of the undertaking.
The primary way of executing such representation is to agree on the representation between the employer representatives and the personnel groups. However, if no agreement is reached, the personnel can under certain circumstances appoint representatives to the Supervisory Board, the Board of Directors, management groups, or other comparable bodies chosen by the employer.
8. Other Types of Employee Representative Bodies
In order to ensure health and safety at work, employees in a workplace with at least 10 employees should elect among themselves an occupational safety and health representative (industrial safety delegate) and two deputy members to represent the employees in matters regarding the safety of the workplace. The occupational safety and health representative is entitled to be released from work obligations as well as receive the essential information for carrying out the industrial safety duties.