Helsinki (25.03.2021 - Heikki Jokinen) One in four employers have unjustifiable sought to restrict employee and shop steward rights to express their views regarding their workplace.

This is the result of a survey, published by the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions SAK in March. SAK collected replies from 825 of their member unions shop stewards and occupational safety and health representatives.

The most common ways to restrict employees’ freedom of speech are by banning commenting on matters concerning the workplace in social media and when giving interviews to the media.

There are also cases where writing comments and opinions to the media have been banned, and demands that the employer reserve the right to inspect any media interviews before they are published. In some cases journalists are not allowed to enter the workplace.

According to the survey, in the public sector 19 per cent of employers have restricted employees' freedom of speech, in the transport sector 29 per cent, in the private services 27 per cent and in industry 23 per cent. This makes an average of 23 per cent.

A total of 27 per cent of union representatives report that in their workplace there have been cases where opinions expressed by the employee have led to sanctions by the employer. These include calling an employee to a sit down or issuing a warning. In at least six cases, the employee has been dismissed.

Part of the problem is that often there are no clear guidelines on how employees can publicly discuss matters concerning the workplace. Of those who replied, 64 per cent say that such guidelines exist at their place of work, but only a little over half of these are drafted jointly by both employer and employees.

SAK lawyer Paula Ilveskivi stresses that employees also do have the constitutional right to express their views in public.

"However, this right is limited in certain circumstances by confidentiality obligations and loyalty requirements. For this reason we asked whether freedom of speech is being restricted for unjustifiable reasons, and the results were none too positive."