Financial sector creates its first trade union

On 11 September 2013, the Union of Estonian Financial Sector Employees was established, the first trade union to represent the interests of employees in the sector. The new union aims to protect the interests of its members in both collective and individual employment relationships and hopes to become an equal and constructive social partner with the financial sector’s employers. News of a new trade union is surprising, given that Estonia is renowned for its low levels of unionisation.

Background

The Estonian financial sector is strongly intertwined with the Scandinavian model, where trade unions are an important part of the sector. When the Scandinavian banks expanded to Estonia in the 1990s, unsuccessful attempts were made to form trade unions for workers in the sector. Employers now say that Estonia’s working culture more closely resembles the Scandinavian model, and this is believed to be one of the reasons why a new trade union, the Union of Estonian Financial Sector Employees (EFL), was formed on 11 September 2013.

Employers also believe the new union has been created in response to changes in the sector as organisations look for more efficient ways of operating and adjust themselves to the opportunities and needs of the market. As a result, the sector is facing restructuring and the introduction of reforms such as stricter surveillance requirements and measures to guarantee the stability of financial institutions. For employees, this not only means changes and retraining, but also job losses.

The first trade union in the sector

The EFL was founded on 11 September 2013 by six young lawyers. While the media speculated that its launch was motivated by uneven wage distribution in the sector, its founders explained that it was driven by some questionable cases of termination of employment.

The EFL aims to protect and represent the rights and interests of employees in collective and individual employment relations. The main focus will be on employment legislation, but it will also deal with wages and training, and raising employees’ awareness of employment legislation. The main objective of the union will be to develop a constructive dialogue between employees and employers. For employees, it will offer support if there is a breakdown in employment relations, while the EFL hopes that employers will pay more attention to the rights of their employees.

The EFL expects employees of banks and other credit, investment, fund management and insurance organisations and institutions to join. It currently has around 30 members, and hopes to have at least 50 by the end of 2013 as awareness grows. According to an EFL representative, the majority of members are young, which is quite unusual.

During the formation of EFL, the founders consulted and cooperated with two Swedish trade unions, the Financial Sector Union of Sweden (Finansförbundet) and the Academic Association (Akademikerförbundet SSR), and also met with the chairs of Estonian trade unions and the Estonian Trade Union Confederation (EAKL). EAKL has expressed that it hopes that EFL will soon be affiliated with it.

Employers’ reactions

While some employers have questioned the need for a union in the sector, arguing that the banking model in Estonia is already strongly intertwined with the Scandinavian model and good working conditions have been established, the general reaction has been positive. Employers are hoping that the union will be a constructive partner and have called for cooperation, and have said they will not prevent their employees from joining the EFL. Employers have also said that the creation of a trade union can be seen as a characteristic of an advanced society which could help to improve the quality of services in the sector.

Comments

Estonia is known for its low levels of unionisation. In 2009, approximately 10% of employees belonged to trade unions and this number has been steadily decreasing. This partly explains why the news of a new trade union has been met with surprise.

Liina Osila, Ingel Kadarik, Praxis Centre for Policy Studies

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