Restructuring dispute at Finnair

The Finnish national carrier, Finnair, has released its plan to begin offering new flight attendants about 30% less pay than that of older workers doing the same jobs. The Finnish Cabin Crew Union (SLSY) opposes the plan and has asked for the support of the Transport Workers’ Union (AKT) in opposing the airline’s plan. SLSY and AKT have thus started negotiations towards a possible merger.

The Finnish national carrier, Finnair, has announced that it will hire about 600 new flight attendants: 400 newly recruited employees and 200 workers already employed by the company on fixed-term employment contracts. The company also released its plan to begin offering new flight attendants about 30% less pay than that of older workers carrying out the same jobs. The approximately 200 fixed-term contract flight crew members face a similar pay cut if they are given permanent positions within the company.

Trade unions reject wage offer

The Finnish Cabin Crew Union (Suomen Lentoemäntä- ja Stuerttiyhdistys, SLSY), affiliated to the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiliittojen Keskusjärjestö, SAK), is opposed to Finnair’s plans to cut pay levels for new staff members. The SLSY council declined the offer proposed by Finnair, considering such an offer to be a violation of the collective agreement. The Chair of SLSY, Mauri Koskenniemi, stated that: ‘The situation is that Finnair has put forward a draft agreement to SLSY in which the company wants new flight attendants to be recruited under cheaper conditions of employment than those defined in the valid collective agreement. The council of SLSY has decided that this kind of agreement cannot be concluded, because we already have a valid collective agreement with the company.’

Increased pressure on airline

Finnair has announced that it will employ all new flight attendants through its associated Estonian company, Aero Airlines, if SLSY rejects contracts based on cheaper employment terms. Finnair’s Information Officer, Christer Haglund, indicated that the airline has been paying its flight crew more than the normal rate paid by other airlines. He emphasised that increasing competition from low-cost airlines is putting mounting pressure on Finnair.

However, in response, Mr Koskenniemi stated that: ‘Aero Airlines is Finnair’s associated Estonian company, and if Finnair wants to make such an outrageous breach of agreement, it should be taken seriously. It is a breach of contract which has to be brought before the Labour Court (Työtuomioistuin). We have considered organisational resolutions that we can follow in the case of industrial action if that happens.’

SLSY has called on another SAK-affiliated union, the Transport Workers’ Union (Auto- ja Kuljetusalan Työntekijäliitto, AKT), for support in this dispute. Thus, in June 2006, SLSY and AKT began merger negotiations to strengthen their position. According to the Chair of AKT, Timo Räty: ‘The aim is for the unions to join forces and merge into a stronger unit as soon as possible, perhaps during the autumn or winter’.

No industrial action during negotiations

Finnair and SLSY have agreed a framework of negotiations to seek a solution to the dispute. Both parties have agreed that no industrial action should take place during the talks, at least until the beginning of November 2006. As part of the negotiations, the parties will also try to agree on structural changes to the existing collective agreement and arrangements for cutbacks within the company.

At the end of August 2006, some 180 contracts held by flight attendants were to be cut. However, Finnair agreed to continue these contracts until the end of October 2006 under the current terms of employment.

Pertti Jokivuori, Statistics Finland

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