EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Employers favour stronger role for shop stewards

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Shop stewards are set to play a greater role in the impending negotiation round for new collective agreements. This follows increased support for shop stewards, expressed in recent months by the Confederation of Finnish Industries, the country’s leading employer organisation.

Shop stewards, it has emerged, are likely to play a greater role in the upcoming negotiations on new collective agreements. While the trade unions have traditionally supported the position of their representatives, increased support for shop stewards has also been expressed in more recent times by the leading employer organisation, the Confederation of Finnish Industries (Elinkeinoelämän Keskusliitto, EK). According to the Chair of EK’s board, Antti Herlin, the role of the shop steward should be reconsidered from the standpoint of developing entrepreneurship and ensuring peace in industrial relations.

Employers’ perspective

Strengthening the position of shop stewards fits with the goal of employers to enhance local bargaining. Employers find it easier to bargain with trade union representatives whose position is consistent and who are familiar with the needs of their members. Conversely, poorly informed and insufficiently equipped shop stewards cannot play an important role at the workplace, and are thus useful to neither management nor staff.

Trade union position

The trade unions’ goal, in terms of developing the role of shop stewards, is to secure more time and information for them; at the same time, the unions wish to ensure better compensation and stronger employment security for shop stewards. Recently, the President of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiliittojen Keskusjärjestö, SAK), Lauri Ihalainen, encouraged the trade unions to consider the benefits of concluding local agreements (FI0702029I).

From the trade unions’ perspective, it is argued that if employers wish to seek support from shop stewards in developing entrepreneurship and ensuring industrial peace, this aspiration ought to be reflected in their respect for the mandate. Part-time shop stewards often face significant demands, as they have to continue working in their main job, while also meeting their duties as an employee representative.

Survey highlights local bargaining problems

Meanwhile, according to the results of a new study conducted by SAK (SAK:n luottamusmieskysely 2007 (in Finnish, 267Kb PDF)), problems concerning local bargaining have increased. In particular, shop stewards have experienced difficulties in relation to wage bargaining.

SAK has been conducting surveys on shop stewards since 1992. This latest study covers some 389 shop stewards, representing about 100,000 wage earners in total. Shop stewards contend that problems with local bargaining procedures stem in particular from the fact that employers are able to interpret agreements from their own point of view. Moreover, shop stewards indicate that company-level bargaining on working hours seem to run more smoothly than local bargaining on wages. In the period 1996–2001, local bargaining focused on the issue of wages; however, in more recent years, bargaining on working hours has been almost as prevalent. Extensive local bargaining on issues including both wages and working hours has increased in recent times.

The latest SAK survey includes, for the first time, questions on safety in workplaces. According to the responses, workplace safety is mainly satisfactory. However, a particular shortcoming in this respect is the lack of adequate time compensation for workplace safety delegates. In the public sector, 59% of workplace safety delegates miss out on compensation that has been agreed in collective agreements. Provisions for workplace safety are felt to be better in larger workplaces rather than smaller, a problem which is emerging as an equality issue for employees.

Pertti Jokivuori, Statistics Finland

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