Collective agreement stories from present-day Finland

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“Having a collective agreement is a huge deal. It allows us to safeguard the terms of employment and rights of everyone and promote equality in working life,” Aleksi Mastosalo says. Photo by Lauri Eriksson

Aleksi Mastosalo: “The main thing is to keep the collective agreement”

For vehicle body repairer Aleksi Mastosalo, being a member of the Industrial Union is a happy given. The Union membership has acquired additional meaning for Aleksi, who now also acts as the chief shop steward.

After finishing comprehensive school, the now 24-year-old Espoo resident received his basic degree in automotive engineering from Omnia in Espoo. The young man would have preferred to become a mechanic, but the school ushered him into body repair. This eventually proved to be the correct move.

– I haven’t looked back. I started working at InCar Oy at Kivenlahti as soon as I graduated in 2016 and today I work at the company’s Espoonlahti repair shop. I’m couldn’t be happier, Aleksi says.

“The Union sticks up for everyone”

Aleksi became a member of the Metal Workers Union during his studies in 2014. Later, the union came to form a part of the Industrial Union. According to Aleksi’s recollection, he first about the membership at Omnia and joined soon after.

– I knew right from the start that, if you’re a worker, belonging to a union pays off since it is difficult for an individual worker to look out for their own interests and hold on to their own rights. I’m never alone – the Union is always there for me. The Union sticks up for everyone.”

– That’s the most important thing, and that’s what I also stress as the chief shop steward at my workplace. At the moment, I represent 94 employees, about 30 of whom belong to the Union. The automotive sector has traditionally been relatively stable, so people may not have realised the importance of unions.

“Having a collective agreement is a huge deal”

For Aleksi, being part of the Industrial Union means having better terms of employment and a more stable working conditions.

– Having a collective agreement is a huge deal. It allows us to safeguard the terms of employment and rights of everyone and to promote equality at the workplace. If everyone had to negotiate their own benefits and rights, then only those who can negotiate would do well. The power of the Union means that even those who are not vocal about their rights get good terms of employment and the opportunity to make a difference.

– Personally, I like to think that the Union really shows its mettle when problems arise. And that’s not to say that the membership can only help you in times of trouble – the Industrial Union offers some great benefits for its members.

“Having a shop steward is a perk”

Aleksi was elected as the chief shop steward in December 2020, after having been asked to take on the role.

– When it comes to work-related matters, having a shop steward is actually one of the perks of the job. I believe many people find it easier to talk to the shop steward rather than to the employer directly. After all, an employer telling and a shop steward asking you do something can be two very different things in a conflict situation, Aleksi says.

– The way I see it, my role is to advance the interests of the employees. At the same time, you have to keep in mind that the employee’s interest is also the company’s interest. I hope that, as a shop steward, I can help to pass information between the various parties and act as a neutral mediator and negotiator.

“Collective agreements affect our lives”

The shop steward duties have affected Aleksi’s activity in the Union.

– I’ve thought about running for the local branch Board and/or focusing on youth activities. I actively follow the collective agreement negotiations since they affect all of our lives. The terms of employment and workers’ rights are the most important reasons for keeping the collective agreement.

– I have read enough agreements related to the automotive and engineering industry to say that I really understand them. To give one small example, I was once asked by an employee to check that the 50th anniversary is a paid leave according to the collective agreement, Aleksi says smiling.

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“The Union-trained shop steward helps with all kinds of things in different situations in life, ranging from birth-related documentation all the way to pension papers,” Jari Kairajärvi explains. Photo by Lauri Eriksson

Jari Kairajärvi: “Collective agreements are created through negotiations, not dictation”

For Jari Kairajärvi, a team leader in inbound logistics, the Union represents caring, strength, support and security. As the chief shop steward, he can extend the support he receives from the Union to others.

The 40-year-old Ylöjärvi resident Jari began working right after finishing comprehensive school. He got swept away by work at a time when most people received their degrees, so he received his engineer fitter qualifications at an older age.

– I have done a bit of work here and there and everywhere. I’ve worked as a school assistant, at a coffee roastery, as an invoice clerk for an import company, and in warehousing and sales, for example. I also used to work abroad, making automation systems for the textile industry. That was an eye-opening experience, Jari says.

In Russia and the Baltic countries, Jari was struck by the lack of occupational safety regulations and appreciation for the workers. In Canada, he noticed people’s inequality, with Caucasians in managerial positions wearing ties around their necks and people with ethnic backgrounds doing all the menial jobs, or with workers having their meals in stairwells while the white-collar workers dined in restaurants. In Japan, Jari paid attention to how hierarchical the society was and how the employees on different echelons of society were appreciated.

– That’s when I understood that Finland is actually a good country to work in, Jari says.

“Young Jari was taken for a ride”

For the past 15 years, Jari has done machinery installations and logistics work in the Pirkanmaa region. He’s worked as a team leader and chief shop steward in inbound logistics for Avant Tecno Oy for the last seven years.

– Things are running smoothly at my current workplace, but it hasn’t always been like that at my previous jobs. I’ve been blatantly underpaid and had to fight over daily allowances and overtime pay. Young Jari was really taken for a ride sometimes. When I found out the truth, I felt cheated. That’s when I decided I wouldn’t let anyone cheat me again, Jari says.

– I just didn’t know how to get help. Although I was taught to value work, unions or politics were never discussed at home. Had I known about unions earlier, I would’ve saved myself from a lot of trouble. I feel like working life knowledge should already be taught in comprehensive schools.

– I had the brains to join the Industrial Union in 2008, when the threat of layoffs began to emerge alongside the recession. I became concerned about my livelihood and for the first time ever developed an interest union membership and collective agreements, which I had never even heard of before.

“Thumbs up for a generally binding collective agreement”

The Industrial Union means a lot to Jari: it represents support and security, standing up for the rights of the weaker party, solidarity, caring and strength. The Union provides support and an opposing force against the power of money. The Union also gives voice to the quiet guy standing in the corner of the factory.

– If we each try to manage on our own and let the employer become organised and decide things for us, that’s not going to work. We can’t just rely on the employer’s goodwill.

– Maintaining a level of organisation is vital for the whole trade union movement and, therefore, the rights of workers as a whole. Who will defend the young Jaris and Saris and the more mature Karis and Maris, if the collective agreements stop being generally binding?

– There are good employers out there, but unfortunately also some not so good ones. What happens to us will be at the will and whim of the employer unless we have a generally binding collective agreement that guarantees us some minimum conditions. Few companies know how to locally write their own collective agreement.

– The collective agreement stands for minimum terms of employment, predictability and stability, fairness and negotiations – not dictation. I am happy with my own collective agreement and I can live better with it than without it.

“A life without a union?”

Jari feels that he gets a lot from the Union, and he’s given some serious thought to what he can give back to it.

– In me, the Union gets a committed member who does not publicly criticise the actions of the Union and thus does not undermine its credibility. I can donate my time and take part in the pursuit of the common good, Jari says.

– Without the Union, acting as a shop steward would be simply impossible. The workers at my workplace are representative of the Union of course, but we alone could not get our word across so that the employer would actually listens to what we have to say.

– If I didn’t belong to the Union, I would not be able to be the chief shop steward at my workplace. I would obviously have considerably more time for everything else, too. But my passion for interest representation runs deep. Helping others and sticking up for my coworkers is rewarding, Jari says smiling.

Active engagement in Union activities has decreased slightly with age and children, compared to the times when Jari took part in every event and course the youth section of the Metal Workers Union had to offer. Nowadays, he doesn’t have the time nor the energy anymore. But maybe that will change once the kids grow up.

“I’m a link between the floor and the office”

– The chief shop steward of my former workplace got tired of the constant cooperation negotiations and announced that he was quitting. Since no one else seemed to want to run for the post, I told them I was available. I think that was in 2009 or 2010, and I haven’t stopped since, Jari says.

Jari thinks that the role of shop steward is multifaceted. He represents the employees in negotiations with the employer and strives to be a person that the employees would like to talk to about anything weighing on their mind. In other words, Jari wants to extend the support and safety that the Union has given him to his coworkers.

– I’m a link between the floor and the office. I naturally also have to take the needs of the company into account, and think about to what extent I’m able to give in to the employer while maintaining my principles, for example. My job is to enable growth opportunities for production and to ensure that some of that growth benefits the workers. I also need to be able to restrain the employer’s growth plans so that no employee is overburdened by the workload. These things get me fired up.

“Bursting with confidence; tail between one’s legs”

According to Jari, knowing the collective agreement is essential for a chief shop steward.

– Employers may sometimes act in violation of the collective agreement. In such cases, I pay the employer a visit and politely correct any misinformation. I will inform them of the relevant section of the collective agreement so that they know what to do in the future. That means you have to have a good eye for the game. I’m not someone who likes to make a scene, so I offer direction and guidance instead.

– I can sometimes make mistakes and misinterpret things too, of course. Fortunately, thanks to my long history as a shop steward, I know lots of people in the Union and will not hesitate if I need to check the correct interpretation with the regional office. When you’re not too embarrassed to raise your hand and admit you’ve made a mistake, the employer can do the same.

– I’ve got my ass kicked in the past. I’ve gone for a chat bursting with confidence and come back with my tail between my legs. Everything doesn’t always go exactly the way you imagined or wanted, so knowing how to get your ass kicked can be a valuable skill.

– The best thing about being a shop steward is helping others.

“Every step always takes you forward”

When it comes to disagreements and conflicts, Jari sees himself as a conciliator. Whenever there’s a conflict of opinion, things often get emotional. It’s important to have your antennae out in situations like that. You need to be impartial and listen to the different points of view, check the sections of the collective agreement and take a few steps back to look at the situation.”

– The best thing about being a shop steward is helping others. I get great pleasure from seeing long negotiations come to an end in a manner that benefits the workers. I love the moment when the employer has finally been persuaded of the fact that your proposal is better than the one the employer brought to the table.

– There’s always a lot to negotiate. The issues can range from changes in working hours to salary increases or, say, a new water point for the production facilities. Each step, small or large, is a step forward, Jari notes.

Which word encapsulates the collective agreement for you?

– I would like to stress the words ‘industrial peace’. I would urge everyone to think about the positive or negative associations the concept may have. Would this be the kind of thing everyone should hold on to, Jari muses.

– Alternatively, my words could be ‘shop steward agreement’. I personally believe that it is in the interests of both the employees and the employer to find a competent and union-trained shop steward for the workplace.

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“Working life is improved in small steps by taking care of the interests and rights of the workers,” says Justine Bitka. Photo by Lauri Eriksson

Justine Bitka: “Without the Union and the collective agreement things would not be good”

Carpenter-artisan Justine Bitka appreciates the collective agreement because without it many things would be much worse off. The chief shop steward wants to contribute to a better working life by “paying it forward”.

Justine, originally from Serene, Latvia, is a 27-year-old living in Juva. After comprehensive school, Justine first found herself working for a food manufacturer and a dairy, but when the work stopped, Justine decided to study to become a carpenter artisan in Mikkeli.

– With the school’s help, I managed to find a job at Sisuwood Oy in Juva that corresponded to my education. It’s a special carpentry factory producing customised domestic furniture. They liked me, so they gave me a permanent job. Before, I worked as a machinist but currently I work as an assembly manager, Justine recounts.

– I like my job because I enjoy working with my hands. I also like living near my workplace.

“Industrial Union? Why not!”

Justine was introduced to the Industrial Union in 2015 when the chief shop steward at her workplace was on the look-out for new members.

– The chief shop steward asked me whether I’d be interested in joining the Union since I had a permanent job and all. I immediately thought ‘why not’.

– I think we should be getting more young people involved with the Union, because the more experienced generation is retiring. I eventually became so invested in the Union that I proposed myself as the chief shop steward in 2018, as the election was coming up. I got elected, and here I am, Justine says.

– As chief shop steward, my job is to look after the interests of the employees. They may not always be well known or even talked about. All things haven’t always been handled fairly, so my role as a co-worker, mediator and negotiator is to think about how things could be done better at the workplace. Sometimes it’s big things but it can be small things, too. I’ve attended various Union training events and learned a lot.

“Working life is improved in small steps”

Having gained work-related experience, Justine thinks life without a collective agreement would be strange. Collective negotiation is the lifeblood for a well-functioning working life.

– Working life is improved in small steps by taking care of the interests and rights of the workers. As the chief shop steward and employee representative, I try to answer any questions that may arise as well as sort out and promote various matters in cooperation with the employer. And if I don’t know something, I can ask the Union’s regional office for help at any time. The Union represents a strong belief in aiming for the common good.

– I want to help others any time I can. It feels good. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I haven’t yet been able to be as active as I would have liked and I haven’t been able to attend events and meet people, but that time will come.

“The Union means we are not alone”

If there was no Union, many things would be much worse off in Justine’s view.

– Without the Union and the collective agreement things would not be good. If we were on our own, we’d be walking on thin ice. Things are definitely better because of the Union. It gives us security and collective power. The Union is a major help to everyone, because the Union means we are not alone. Prosperity of the employer should also be reflected in the prosperity of the employees.

While working, Justine suddenly remembers something that every employee should be grateful for today:

– It’s great to know that there’s work to be done and that the future’s looking bright.

Which word encapsulates the collective agreement for you?

– I would describe the collective agreement as ‘paying it forward’. As the chief shop steward, I will pass on help, support and insights so that no one has to start from scratch. The better off we are, the better working life we can achieve.

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“The Union represents support and security, which can be seen at times when there are problems at work, especially. Without the Union, we would be in a weaker position,” says Väinö Achrén. Photo by Lauri Eriksson

Väinö Achrén: “What would your life be like without a collective agreement”

Packer-fitter operator Väinö Achrén has trust in the Union’s mass power and cooperation. The Industrial Union has made my life more secure and stable, offered me training and introduced me to new colleagues.

Väinö is a 30-year-old packer-fitter operator who currently works at the Orion Plc’s pharmaceutical factory in Salo. After comprehensive school, Väinö graduated from a commercial institute in Loimaa and became a dairyman after completing a basic degree in food production in Hämeenlinna.

– I didn’t want to go to upper secondary school as a teenager since I wasn’t really interested in reading and didn’t think I would’ve managed, Väinö says.

One year of the young man’s life was spent in Säkylä, where he did his military service. He also gained some working life experience driving a taxi for a living.

– When Orion’s Salo plant had vacancies in 2013, hundreds of former Nokia employees applied. I submitted my own application and got in. Initially, we had to learn the ropes at the Turku factory, but when the Salo factory opened in March 2014, we moved there. I’ve worked as a packer fitter operator for around eight years now, Väinö says.

“The Union provides mass power and mass pressure”

Väinö joined the Union in the autumn of 2013. Prior to joining the Industrial Union, he had already been a member of the Professional Dairy Association MVL and the Industrial Union TEAM, so union activities were already familiar to him to some extent.

– The decision to get involved was my own, but the spark came from home. My mother has chaired the local branch of Tehy, the Union of Health and Social Care Services, so that’s how I initially learnt about trade union issues and various concepts such as generally binding collective agreement, earnings-related unemployment benefit, holiday bonus and worktime shortening.

– To me, the Union is about having the mass power and mass pressure to influence decision-makers. We are stronger as Union members than as lone individuals. Collective agreements require doing things together, since few people can actually negotiate their terms of employment on their own.

– Without the Union, not all workers would be heard and we wouldn’t have things like worktime shortening or sick pay. These things should not be taken for granted.

“Without the Union, not everyone would have a voice”

The Industrial Union has given Väinö a lot of other things besides security, such as high-quality training opportunities and new colleagues. For instance, Väinö has completed a secretarial course and participated in youth activities.

– Training opportunities are important for staying up-to-date and refreshing your skills. The Union provides help even in cases where your own chief shop steward doesn’t have the answers, Väinö explains.

As a member of the Industrial Union, Väinö has wanted to promote its cause in educational institutions such as the Paimio Forestry School and the Salo Vocational School. Cooperation with training institutions is also an important channel for attracting new members.

– I have told the students that the union is the only organisation that will negotiate their collective agreements, for example. If it weren’t for the collective agreement, a lot of things would be different in terms of salary alone: Finland has no minimum wage; instead, the law talks about ‘fair compensation’ if I remember correctly.

– The collective agreement is important. Without it, we could be working 12-hour days seven days a week for 5 euros an hour. Before the unions, life was pretty much like that. Without the Union, not all workers would be heard and we wouldn’t have things like worktime shortening or sick pay. These things should not be taken for granted.

“What would your life be like without a collective agreement!”

Väinö acts as the secretary of Salon Teollisuustyöntekijät, the industrial workers’ local branch in Salo, for the second year. In the most recent election, he was elected as the first Deputy Occupational Safety Representative.

– What motivates me about the Union is the fact that I can make a difference. I can have a say on, for example, what events or training opportunities the trade union organises. As people move into retirement, we need to increasingly engage the younger generation. I want to do my part. I grew up on a farm where my parents taught me that money doesn’t grow on trees.

– It can be difficult to agree individually on all the issues that are negotiated together in collective agreements. Local agreement can mean lower pay and fewer benefits and rights. It’s worth considering what working life would be like without collective agreements, Väinö says.

Väinö thinks local agreement can be challenging compared to having a generally binding collective agreement at the national level.

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For Jari Kinnunen and Elina Lahtinen, being part of the Union means having support, security and a future. Photo by Lauri Eriksson.

Elina Kinnunen & Jari Lahtinen: “Having a collective agreement means having support, security and a future”

For Elina Kinnunen and Jari Lahtinen, the trade union has always been a natural part of working life – an important base, a safe haven and a resource of strength. The collective agreement adds certainty, stability and continuity to life.

Production worker Elina Kinnunen and assembler Jari Lahtinen are co-workers at Harvia Plc’s Muurame factory on either side of a room divider. Elina assembles various sauna products in the supply department, while Jari works on sauna stoves, assembling them and ensuring they are packaged properly.

Elina first joined a trade union during her practical nursing studies and became a member of the Wood Union – which subsequently merged into the Industrial Union – after getting a job at a plywood factory.

–  At 19, I didn’t really give much thought to joining – I just filled in the papers like everyone else and that was it, Elina says smiling.

Jari joined the Union on his first day at work. Jari followed the example set by his childhood home, so joining was more or less a given.

– Initially, I joined because of the unemployment fund, since I didn’t really understand the other functions of the Union at that point, Jari explains.

The Union truly matters

Before coming to Harvia, Elina worked at a plywood factory in Säynätsalo and where she completed apprenticeship-based vocational degree in wood-based panel technology. Elina is also a practical nurse, in addition to which she worked at a daycare for a while.

– The industrial sector is my thing. When I started at Harvia in March 2021, it was like coming home. I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing and I really like my job. It’s varied and diverse: sometimes I get work with people, at other times I do things independently, Elina explains.

Jari, who works on the other side of the room divider, has been employed by Harvia for seven years. He has previous work experience in construction as well as in the manufacturing of building elements and mechanical seals. Jari also holds a basic degree in computer science and a vocational degree in machining.

– Years in the field have shown the importance of belonging to the Union. I may not have understood it when I was younger, but now I know better, Jari concludes.

Being part of the Union is an important thing

For Jari and Elina, being part of the Union means having support, security and a future.

– One important reason for belonging to the Union is being prepared for unemployment. As a Union member, I receive earnings-related unemployment benefit. The Union provides security if there’s trouble at work. I can count on the Union being there for us if the going gets tough, Elina says.

Jari agrees.

– Thanks to the generally binding collective agreement, I know what I’m entitled to and what demands I can make and, on the other hand, what the employer can require of me. When you know your rights and belong to a union, the game is fair for everyone involved – the employee as well as the employer.

One of Jari’s earliest union memories takes him back to a time when he used to work for a house manufacturer.

– The Union’s unemployment fund turned out to be really important since I was only employed when houses were being built and unemployed between projects. Without the union, the unemployment benefit would have been less than 20 euros a day, while the union paid around 60–70 euros. It was a big deal for a young man, Jari explains.

– Having a collective agreement means that there’s an agreement about what working life is.

Benefits should not be taken for granted

Collective agreements negotiated by the Industrial Union provide Jari and Elina with better terms of employment and work-related stability.

– The more members the Union has, the stronger we will be when it’s time to negotiate. The Union represents mass power, security and common rules as well as important achievements such as unemployment security and legal protection, Jari says.

– If there was no union to agree on workers’ benefits, how permanent would the locally agreed benefits be and who would ensure that the agreement would also be adhered to? It could be pretty different. What would happen to holidays, holiday and shift bonuses or sick pay? To me, having a collective agreement means that there’s an agreement on work-related matters and that the agreement is followed by both the employer and the employee, Elina says.

– The Union has negotiated many things on our behalf that may be taken as a given, although that’s not what they are. It’s great that we have things such as worktime shortening and clear shifts that allow us to make long-term plans, Jari adds.

What would life be like without the Union?

– don’t know how to answer that because that’s not an option for me. I can’t even think about my life without the Union. Even though we haven’t been forced to use mass power or its use goes unnoticed, it is important to know that it exists whenever negotiations are held. I trust in the future of the collective agreement — and that’s the most important thing, Jari replies.

Elina and Jari also appreciate the other benefits the Union offers.

– I’m happy to belong to a union that all my co-workers belong to as well. I like to go on joint excursions and trips, for instance. It’s great to know that you can always turn to the Union when you need help and that there’s always someone to answer the phone if you give them a call. When it comes to the membership, I’m as happy as can be, Elina says.

– The Industrial Union offers a lot of great benefits, such as insurances or, say, holiday cottages that you can rent at a low price. Trips organised by the local branch, spring excursions, theatre visits, family days and ice fishing contests are also important. As a member of the Muurame local branch, I, too, can be involved in organising trips, events and training opportunities and recruiting new members, Jari lists.

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“Belonging to the Union makes me feel like I’m part of a big group that adds leverage to negotiations,” Emilia Lahdenperä says. Photo by Lauri Eriksson

Emilia Lahdenperä: “Belonging to the Industrial Union provides safety”

For plater-welder Emilia Lahdenperä, being part of the Industrial Union is a happy given. According to Emilia, the average worker would be in trouble without the Union.

The 26-year-old Tornio resident began her basic degree studies in mechanical and industrial engineering in 2017. When Emilia was offered a permanent job during her second year of studies, she decided to continue her studies as an apprentice and graduated in 2018.

– I completed my studies pretty fast, Emilia says smiling.

– I spent a long time thinking about what I want to do when I grow up. For some reason I had always been fascinated by welding, so I thought I’d give it a go. I have to admit it was a jump into the unknown, but I’ve had zero regrets.

“Changing the scenery suits me”

Emilia says the attraction welding holds is difficult to explain – “there’s just something about it.”

– Welding feels reassuring. Putting on the mask means entering my own private world — I don’t see or hear what’s going on in around me. It’s a world of calm, Emilia muses.

Emilia moved to her second and current job at Kosken Asennus Oy in 2020. Her present work includes not only field welding but also equipment installations.

– I like changing the scenery and that’s something I can do in this job. We don’t have permanent workstations but travel between locations depending on the work available at the different factories. Sometimes the work is more intense, sometimes a little less. That suits me just fine.

“Being in the Union means you’re never left alone”

Emilia is a self-described happy northerner. She enjoys living in Tornio with her spouse, daughter, siblings and other family members. A lover of horses and horse riding, Emilia loves the tranquility of the north and the closeness of nature.

– We have plenty of forests and fields here.

Emilia joined the Industrial Union already during her first year of studies. Joining was a happy given and has proved useful in later years.

– During the pandemic, when there wasn’t much work at times, I would’ve been in heaps of trouble if it hadn’t been for the Union and the earnings-related unemployment benefit. I didn’t panic since I knew the Union had my back. Belonging to the Industrial Union provides safety. You can always call the Union if you need help and you’re never left alone, Emilia explains.

“The collective agreement has it all”

If belonging to the Union provides security and certainty, not being part of a union would be a cause for stress and uncertainty.

– You still need to pay for everything, even if you don’t have a job. Belonging to a union means that your life goes on and you don’t have to worry about being able to pay your bills, Emilia says.

Emilia, who works in an technology industry agreement sector, follows the news and collective agreement negotiations and regularly visits the website of the Industrial Union.

– The collective agreement means a lot because it’s so comprehensive. Without a collective agreement and Union power, an individual worker would be pretty powerless. The terms of employment have been achieved through hard negotiations, so we have to work hard to keep them. Belonging to the Union makes me feel like I’m part of a big group that adds leverage to negotiations.

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Mansoor “Manu” Hashimi: “Industrial Union? Of course!”

Mansoor “Manu” Hashimi, who works as a production line supervisor and packer, joined the Industrial Union as soon as the matter came up at the workplace.

A native of Afghanistan, Mansoor, or “Manu”, now a 32-year-old Tampere resident, came to Finland as a quota refugee with his father, mother, two brothers and a younger sister in February 2003. His first memories relate to things he had never seen or experienced before: Nokia was absolutely covered in snow and the temperature was minus 20 degrees.

– Once spring arrived, I began to familiarise myself with the society, language and people through school and football. After having studied Finnish for a year, I also started studying English and Swedish in the seventh grade, which was quite challenging, Manu recalls.

After finishing comprehensive school, Manu started upper secondary school. He obtained Finnish citizenship in 2008, and in 2011 it was time for military service. Manu joined the Industrial Union shortly after having started working at Purso Oy, a company that designs and manufactures aluminium products and systems.

– The chief shop steward came to tell us about how the Union operated, so I immediately thought I would join. Being part of the Union provides support and a safety net in case end up unemployed one day, Manu says.

“Already ten years of working life”

Manu came to Purso through a temp service, thinking he would work there while he considered pursuing further studies. When a permanent position opened up, Manu thought he would continue working at Purso for as long as it would take him to figure out what he wanted from the future.

– It’s been ten years now and I’m considering starting my studies in a couple of years. I’ve enjoyed it here, Manu says smiling.

At the packing department, Manu worked in three shifts for about eight years. As the three-shift work gradually began to weigh on Manu, he asked his supervisor about getting into the day shift or two-shift work. Currently, Manu works as a production line supervisor and packer.

– Working in two shifts makes it easier to organise my free time with my spouse. I try to take care of myself – I still play football, go to the gym and run.

“I trust the Union to advance my cause”

– The Union ensures that the employer takes care of the employees. I wouldn’t have the time or the competence to familiarise myself with such matters. It’s amazing to realise how much the people in the Union have actually done for us and how much negotiating that has required.

Manu mentions that he follows collective agreement negotiations every once in a while.

– The best part, though, is that I know the Union is managing, developing and negotiating the workers’ affairs in the best way possible. Knowing I’m backed up by the Union means that I can actually focus on working and living my life.

– I think a good collective agreement is one that is equally beneficial for both parties – the employee and the employer alike. You can’t always favour just one party. I’m happy with the collective agreement because I have trust in the Union and what it does for the workers.

“Finland is a great place to live”

Manu has taken part in events organised by the Union for under 36-year-olds. He’s enjoyed spending time with others and exchanging ideas about work and life in general.

– I wanted to participate in this campaign so that I could contribute to the common interest, help and make a difference.

– I feel that, even though Finland is a welfare state that takes care of its citizens, my life would be more uncertain without the Union. Membership gives me peace of mind, makes it possible make plans for the future and even allows you to start studying alongside work.

– I consider Finland my home, even though I was born in Afghanistan. Finland is a great place to live. I want to live here, work and be successful, Manu says.

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“Belonging to the Union allows me to enjoy all the benefits of the collective agreement,” Jaana Järvinen says. Photo by Lauri Eriksson

Sawmill worker Jaana Järvinen: “I can’t imagine a working life without the Union”

Joining the Union was not a given for Jaana Järvinen, but once she realised the benefits, there was no turning back. Today, Jaana is not only a staunch Union member, but also an occupational safety representative and deputy chief shop steward.

Today a Vierumäki resident, Jaana obtained a business qualification around the same time as Finland plunged into the recession in the 1990s. Because she had trouble finding a job, Jaana started taking evening courses at upper secondary school.

In 1995, Jaana found herself at a Vierumäen Teollisuus Oy, now known as Versowood Oy, a timber and wood product manufacturer. She spent the first ten years at the dimension timber line and the following ten at the sawmill as an edger. As the years have passed, Jaana has been able to develop her many competences and she’s currently has varying jobs as a sawyer, edger and line supervisor.

Feeling good about development

Jaana became a shop steward after the previous steward quit in the middle of the term and after she was encouraged to take on new challenges. As the shop steward, Jaana represents the employees of her own department, acts as a negotiator, conciliator, mediator and informant, and assists in all employment-related matters in cooperation with the chief shop steward.

– I also developed an interest in occupational safety and was elected as the deputy occupational safety representative, Jaana, who currently acts as the occupational safety representative as well as the deputy chief shop steward, says.

– New things are a welcome change. I’ve participated in many relevant training opportunities organised by the Union. I found the basic and advanced courses particularly important, and would recommend them to others. These tasks allow you to develop in many ways, as occupational safety is something that develops constantly and the negotiations are never ending. I always feel good when I’ve managed to make an improvement somewhere, Jaana says smiling.

No life without the Union

Joining the Union was not a given for Jaana.

– There was no talk about collective agreements or unions at school. But when the chief shop steward came to talk to me about it at work, I decided to join. It’s been a really good thing, Jaana muses.

– The collective agreement is an important tool as it ensures many benefits for the worker that are not defined in labour legislation. The membership of the Industrial Union signifies joint agreements, mass power, support and security. As a Union member, I get to enjoy all the benefits of the collective agreement, the chief shop steward’s support, local agreements and expert advice at various stages of my working life and, if necessary, even legal assistance.

– In this day and age, I could not imagine working without not belonging to the Union.

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“Union membership is simply a must – I wouldn’t feel safe without it,” Oili Vilo-Pohja says. Photo by Lauri Eriksson

Sock knitter Oili Vilo-Pohja: “There must be mainstays in life – like the Union”

Oili Vilo-Pohja has been a member of the Union since the beginning of her professional career.

– I’ve belonged to the same union since 1994, so almost 30 years, although the branch has changed every now and then. I can’t even imagine what it would be like not to belong to the Union, Oili recounts.

Oili holds a chemical process operator degree from the Pirkanmaa Vocational Institute, but since she graduated in the middle of the recession in the 1990s, she could never find a job in her own field. Oili started her career as a sock knitter when she was hired in her 20s by Vendi Oy, a manufacturer of socks and tricot clothing.

Oili’s eleven years at Vendi involved an unimaginable number of knitted socks as well as the births of her two children. When the company went bankrupt in the autumn of 2005, Oili was left unemployed. She subsequently worked at Saarioinen for a year and a half and had her third child. In 2022, Tampere-based Sidoste Oy was looking for sock knitters, and Oili’s previous career was continued. That career is still going strong, although the journey got a bit sidetracked when Oili got involved with the landscaping sector for a while.

“No two days are the same”

– I wanted to try something new, so in 2015 I started studying for a basic degree in horticulture at the Häme Vocational Institute, from which I graduated as a gardener. I worked in a garden shop in Pälkäne until 2019 until the company was shut down. That’s when I returned to Sidoste, Oili says.

According to Oili, the work of a sock knitter combines manual labour with working with machines. The working day involves working with 25 to 30 machines as well as cooperating with loom tacklers in order to keep the machines running. The aim is to produce as many socks as possible – ranging from woolly and fluffy socks to sports socks and traditional cotton socks – in two shifts.

– The work is highly varied, and no two days are the same. Sock knitting requires precision, quick reaction times and deft fingers, Oili says.

Oili’s employer was established in 1945 so the Finnish company has a long history. The factory produced approximately one million pairs of socks last year, and this year the number will only get bigger. People today appreciate quality, durability, Finnishness and proximity.

“The higher the subscription rate, the stronger we are”

– I joined the Union as soon as I got a job at Vendi. The shop steward came to speak to me about the Union, and it was clear from the outset that I should join. The Union has always stayed the same even though the branch has changed a few times, says Oili, who works in the textile and fashion industry.

– The Union membership has been important to me, and I can’t even imagine not belonging to the Union. The significance of the Union has been particularly evident when I’ve been unemployed or laid off. The shop steward and the Union have always helped me. The higher the subscription rate at the workplace, the stronger we are. Union membership is simply a must – I wouldn’t feel safe without it. It feels good to belong.

For Oili, the membership also signifies a sense of community. She has recently taken an interest in the training opportunities and events at the Murikka Institute.

– It’s great that ordinary workers can also benefit from various courses. I’m already planning which courses to register for next, Oili says smiling.

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“I hold everything that the Union has achieved over the years in high regard, including advancements related to collective agreements,” Kimi Sarkkila says. Photo by Lauri Eriksson

Caster Kimi Sarkkila: “Working life security – that’s what the Union is”

Kimi Sarkkila doesn’t really want to even think about working life without the Union. The Union has featured in Kimi’s life since his student years, and it has become an essential part of his work history.

Kimi, 31, used to study to become a plater-welder and began working at Ruukki, now SSAB Europe Oy, in 2013. A few years later, Kimi got a permanent position manufacturing steel slabs at the smelting plant.

– This work isn’t something you learn at school, but through experience, says Kimi, who not only works in Raahe but also lives there with his family.

Kimi’s employer, SSAB, is a global steel manufacturer and a leading supplier of high-strength steel and related services as well as a pioneer in fossil-free steelmaking. Located in northern Ostrobothnia on the shores of the Bay of Bothnia, Raahe is home to approximately 25,000 people and some major steel and metal industry.

– The factory keeps Raahe alive, Kimi summarises.

“The Union provides safety in working life”

Kimi has been a member of the Union since his student days. As more and more workers have joined the Union, working life has become part of the Union’s history.

– I’ve been asked if I belong to the Union just about as long as I can remember. The sense of belonging to the Union is strong because it’s so closely tied to work. I hold everything that the Union has achieved over the years in high regard, including advancements related to collective agreements. It’s about working life security – that’s what the Union is.

Kimi is an active Union member, as he acts as a deputy board member at his local branch, the chair of the youth section of the local branch as well as a shop steward. The positions of trust have made the collective agreement and its significance very clear.

– I need to thank the local branch for trusting me with all these roles. I’ve always been interested in being a shop steward, so I was thrilled when the opportunity opened up. The role of a shop steward requires that I tackle a wide range of issues. Luckily we have a good group and a good dialogue going with the employer, Kimi says.

Working life without the Union?

– I don’t think I even want to think about not having the Union. Belonging to the Union is a given. Together we are stronger, Kimi replies.

– Although joining the Union was a no-brainer for me, it isn’t like that for everyone. I wish young people would know more about the Union membership and how working life can be developed, because things should not be taken for granted. It’s important to understand how important the collective agreement and its rules are for working life.

The shift worker Kimi is curious to see what the future holds. He aims to work towards becoming a multi-specialist in the field.

– I enjoy my current job. I just have to wait and see what else life has in store for me.

Why should you join the Industrial Union?

  1. The Union provides support at work.
  2. Together we are stronger.
  3. The support the shop steward gives to the members is an important benefit.
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For Tommi Kinnunen, having a collective agreement means that the workplace operates according to a set of common rules. “At work, the collective agreement ensures that things run smoothly.” Photo by Lauri Eriksson

Machinist, chief shop steward Tommi Kinnunen: “It was clear from the beginning: I want to belong to the Union”

At 41 years old, Tommi Kinnunen has 22 years of experience with working as a CNC machinist and belonging to the Union. “I joined as soon as I started working in the industry. I’ve always felt strongly about Union matters,” Tommi says.

After getting his CNC machinist degree and doing his military service, Tommi moved from Iisalmi to Jyväskylä to work. The chosen field and career felt right from the get-go.

– I am, and always have been, interested in working with my hands and doing metalwork. The work includes things like programming machine tools and making flowmeter parts. I enjoy working here because there’s always something I can learn and become better at in this job. I can never say I know it all.

“It’s nice to be in the same boat.”

Tommi’s current workplace is located around twenty kilometres away from his hometown Muurame. Tommi’s employer, Kytölä Instruments Oy, is a family-owned Finnish company founded in 1945 that manufactures precision instruments for the flow measurement, monitoring and control needs of industrial clients and equipment manufacturers.

– It was clear from the beginning of my working career that I wanted to belong to the Union. It provides support and security — it’s a bit like having a well-managed insurance, Tommi says.

Tommi, who belongs to the Muurame 344 local branch, appreciates the sense of community the Union creates, doing things together and making new friends.

– I like being in the same boat, taking part in various events, excursions, cruises or even ice fishing contests the Union organises.

“Being able to help makes you happy.”

Tommi has accumulated an impressive collection of elected positions. Tommi is the chief shop steward and the first deputy occupational safety representative at his workplace as well as a deputy Board member at his local branch. He finds interest representation, occupational safety issues and the development of working life interesting.

– There are several irons in this fire. I enjoy advocacy work as well as being able to interact with people. Overall, I want to spend my life helping people, which is something I get to do in this position. Being able to help and solve problems makes you feel good.

When it comes to his positions of trust, Tommi feels that he is a negotiator, conciliator, informant and a creator of a good atmosphere. Offering encouragement and help contributes to creating a good vibe at work, which in turn contributes to the achievement of a good end result.

“Rules are needed in hockey and at work”

Tommi says things at the workplace run smoothly and follow the collective agreement.

– Just as in hockey, for example, we need rules to avoid any offsides at work. We’ve also established a good dialogue with the management team: we can respond quickly if need be and we have a low threshold for advancing various matters.

Continuing the list of Union benefits, Tommi mentions the Murikka Institute’s courses and events and – in honour of the approaching summer holiday period – the Industrial Union-sponsored trip to the Särkänniemi amusement park with the whole family.

– In addition to my spouse, my family includes 12-, 10- and 1.5-year-old boys and a 7-year-old girl. This lot makes life interesting, Tommi says smiling.

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