SAK union members care about climate change, even if control measures mean changing occupation

Members of SAK-affiliated trade unions think climate change is a serious problem that unions should be tackling actively. This is the key finding of a survey of union members aged between 20 and 40 years conducted by the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK).

69 per cent of SAK-affiliated trade union members aged between 20 and 40 years would retrain for a new career if this was required in order to tackle the problem of climate change. Willingness to switch occupations is greatest in public and private services and among women.

International Adviser Pia Björkbacka views this finding as an indication that employees are serious about mitigating climate change.

– Even so, we cannot saddle individual employees with all of the responsibility for the workplace impact of climate change and efforts to curb it. Employers must be involved in building a pathway to new kinds of work, such as by forecasting the effects of climate measures on future job descriptions and providing opportunities for in-service retraining of employees.

Members also feel that their unions must play a part in combating climate change and arranging the associated retraining, with 77 per cent supporting union participation in mitigation efforts and 67 per cent in favour of ecological training organised by trade unions at workplaces.

As much as 94 per cent of SAK-affiliated trade union members are keen to see practices developed at workplaces that reduce consumption of energy and materials. A clear majority of members (89 per cent) are also confident that progress in developing eco-friendly technology will bring new jobs.

The impact of environmental measures on employment was a prime concern of union members when considering claims related to climate change. Only a small majority of employees (59 per cent) were willing to accept job losses in some sectors as the price of mitigating climate change, with members working in manufacturing and transport showing the least enthusiasm for such an approach.

– SAK stresses that emission reduction measures should not only be ambitious, but also equitable. They should be prepared with due attention to employment impacts and to the security of employees during any transition period. Employee representatives must be present on all committees that decide on measures to reduce emissions, Pia Björkbacka insists.

Climate policy and its importance to employment is a theme of SAK’s Time of Opportunities project in autumn 2019. The organisation will publish further studies over the rest of the year, examining the impact of climate change on the world of work and the status of employees in Finland and other countries.

Good workmates are the most important aspect of a job

Besides climate change, the survey of SAK-affiliated trade union members focused on union membership, the role of unions and immigration for employment. Survey findings included the following:

  • the principal functions of a trade union include improving working conditions and occupational safety, and ensuring employment in the industry
  • good workmates are the most important aspect of a job
  • current skills will be adequate for the future job market, but retraining for a new occupation is a viable option
  • union membership is an important part of life
  • immigrants bring new perspectives and international expertise to workplaces in Finland.

Research specialist Riitta Juntunen finds that the main reasons for joining a union have remained largely unchanged over the years. Members expect their union to provide support when problems arise with an employer, and protection against unemployment.

– It’s nice to see union members viewing their membership as at least a fairly important part of their lives.

Juntunen is particularly interested in the clear divergence between the responses of men and women to this year’s member survey.

– Women are more worried than men about the impacts of climate change, and they are more supportive of measures to mitigate it. They also show more concern than men for equal opportunities at work, and for ensuring adequate unemployment and pension benefits. By contrast, men are more concerned about measures to maintain employment, and less worried than women about their own future job market prospects and their own skills and motivation at work.

The Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) has arranged a survey every five years since 1984 studying the expectations of affiliated trade union members concerning union activities and collective bargaining. This year the survey focused particularly on members aged between 20 and 40 years. The market research organisation Kantar TNS conducted telephone interviews with 1,216 members in March and April 2019 according to quotas determined by union size.