Strike over treatment of foreign workers at shipyard

Around 3,000 workers went on strike at the Turku shipyard of the Norwegian shipbuilding company, Aker Yards, on 3 November to protest against the treatment of workers and level of wages paid to employees of foreign subcontractors. The dispute ended on 6 November when Aker Yards and the local trade union agreed that the company would insist that the foreign subcontractors should adhere to Finnish labour legislation. The dispute has highlighted the responsibility required in the use of contract services which has recently been one of the main qualitative goals in improving working life by trade unions.

Around 3,000 workers employed by Aker Yards shipbuilding company, which is part of the Nowegian multinational Aker Group, and its subcontractors went on strike at the Turku shipyard against the treatment of workers and the level of wages paid to employees of foreign subcontractors. The government’s labour inspectors informed the local union division of the Finnish Metalworkers’ Union (Metallityöväen Liitto, Metalli) that several foreign subcontractors do not respect the minimum working standards at the Turku shipyard. Various violations with regard to safety at work, healthcare services and working hours have been identified. One of the most striking cases at the yard related to a Lithuanian subcontractor paying just €1.51 per hour to their employees. Moreover, this subcontractor has failed both to provide insurance cover for employees and to keep records on work rosters. The dispute ended three days later when Aker Yards and the local trade union agreed that the company would guarantee that all subcontractors adhere to Finnish legislation and collective agreements in the industry.

Collective agreement violations

The case of the Lithuanian subcontractor is exceptional in Finnish working life, but labour inspectors have repeatedly highlighted that other kinds of collective agreement violations are more common. Undercutting minimum pay rates agreed in the collective agreements seldom occurs, but cases where employees have been paid at the minimum level despite a demanding workload, or the lack of overtime pay and lack of extra compensation for shift work are more typical shortcomings. Labour inspectors have continually reported disinterest among employers with regard to the regulations concerning the limits of overtime work. In recent times, particularly in the building and catering sectors, these kinds of problems have been most evident.

Bill on contractual responsibilities

In the spring of 2006, the tripartite working group set up by the Ministry of Labour, referred to as Ulteva 2 (in Finnish), released its proposal to clarify client and contractor responsibilities with regard to the use of hired workers and external labour. The main aims indentified were to promote the adherence to the terms of employment and to establish tougher preconditions for client enterprises to ensure that their subcontractors are following collective agreements and statutory obligations (FI0603039I). The parliament is currently discussing the government’s bill and the new legislation is due to be introduced by the end of the year.

Commentary

It is difficult to identify the extent of shortcomings in working standards among subcontractors, but it is evident that new legislation is needed as well as the provision of additional resources to supervise the terms of employment in situations pertaining to subcontracting and hired workers. The trade unions have traditionally been active in trying to increase contractor responsibility. In September 2006, the Confederation of Finnish Industries (Elinkeinoelämän keskusliitto, EK) published a booklet entitled Corporate responsibility – practices in Finnish business (76Kb PDF), which underlines companies’ commitment to promoting corporate social responsibility (CSR) and developing socially-responsible practices in general.

Pertti Juhani Jokivuori, Statistics Finland

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