Former national conciliator called to resolve airport outsourcing dispute

Former national conciliator Juhani Salonius was requested to lead a working group in an attempt to resolve the dispute between the Finnish Aviation Union and the new staff services company Barona and RTG Ground Handling. In November 2009, Finland’s national carrier Finnair sold baggage handling operations to Barona despite employee and trade union objections. This move sparked staff walkouts and baggage backlog chaos. By mid January 2010, the parties reached a settlement.

The Finnish Minister of Defence, Jyrki Häkämies, who is responsible for supervising majority state-owned companies, like the national carrier Finnair, called former national conciliator Juhani Salonius to help resolve the ongoing dispute at Helsinki’s airport in relation to the outsourcing of baggage handling operations. According to Minister Häkämies, the situation at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport has escalated to a point where an external conciliator was needed to help resolve the conflict. All of the parties involved in the dispute agreed to cooperate with the negotiations lead by Mr Salonius. In mid January 2010, the parties finally reached an agreement.

Dispute over outsourcing

Finnair’s decision in late November 2009 to outsource its ground handling services to RTG Ground Handling and staff services company Barona despite employee and trade union objections has led to the ongoing dispute over this measure at Helsinki-Vantaa airport. This resolution has sparked walkouts by staff and subsequent baggage backlog chaos at the airport.

Juhani Haapasaari, Chair of the Finnish Aviation Union (Ilmailualan Unioni, IAU) affiliated to the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiliittojen Keskusjärjestö, SAK), told the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat that IAU is worried about the state of affairs with employees at RTG Ground Handling. According to IAU, older workers who have been laid off were partly replaced by new staff; as a result, shortcomings in shift time-keeping have been identified.

According to RTG Group’s President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Antti Soininen, the deficiencies identified regarding time-keeping have since been sorted out. In December 2009 and January 2010, three occupational safety inspections have been carried out at the company, in which no major shortcomings regarding health and safety regulations were observed, stated Mr Soininen.

Strong allegations against employees’ performance

The Vice-President of Financial Communications and Investor Relations at Finnair, Taneli Hassinen, claimed that IAU is turning Finnair into a scapegoat in the dispute.

Some workers at Helsinki-Vantaa airport indicated that a number of baggage handling employees working in the terminal buildings fail to do their work properly and have even intentionally directed suitcases onto the wrong aircraft.

According to employees, relations between the workers and Finnair were spoilt by the company’s decision to outsource baggage-handling services. Officially, the difficult weather conditions have been offered as one explanation for the ever-increasing luggage backlog at the airport.

The CEO of Barona, Lassi Määttä, also argued that, in December 2009, about half of the total 500 handling services employees were on sick leave simultaneously. According to Mr Määttä, the situation has improved since Christmas. He also stated that he believes that the majority of employees are doing their job well.

IAU has denied the claims of false sick leave taken by its members. According to IAU Chair Juhani Haapasaari, the union does not accept any deliberate disruptive actions against the employer. Mr Haapasaari also emphasised that ‘our workers are working properly, despite the fact that sometimes there are disputes over employment conditions’. The IAU Chief shop steward at Helsinki-Vantaa airport, Pekka Kähkönen, revealed that sick leave is often taken due to distress and mental strain.

Agreement proposal from working group

Mr Salonius’ working group drafted an agreement on procedures with the approximately 500 baggage handlers on Barona’s payroll. The working group recommended continued negotiations, but the group also agreed on a number of details. The aim is to initiate negotiations on the hiring of part-time workers for peak times of air travel. Thus, the parties to the dispute reached a settlement in mid January.

According to IAU, baggage handlers remain unhappy with being outsourced and the agreement reached. IAU’s Chief shop steward, Mr Kähkönen, highlighted: ‘We have not yet received an answer from Finnair to our question on how outsourcing improves profitability.’

Pertti Jokivuori, Statistics Finland

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