Helsinki (17.07.2011 - Juhani Artto) The Electrical Workers' Union has good news from the construction site of the Olkiluoto 3 nuclear power plant on the Finnish West Coast. More and more Polish electricians have come to realise that they are being badly exploited by their Polish employers and have joined the Finnish Electrical Workers' Union. From Elektrobudowa alone, over one hundred Polish electricians are now rank and file members of the union and benefit from its legal advice and other services. Thus, a third of the company's electricians at the Olkiluoto site are now organized.

This makes it easier for the union to sort out ambiguities in wages and other working conditions, says Hannu Luukkonen, an employee of the union working mainly on matters at Olkiluoto. The national collective agreement on electricians' working conditions is of generally binding character, he emphasizes and lists seven foreign companies that are obliged to respect the agreement. The companies are Elektrobudowa, Elektromontage Gdansk Spoika Akcyjna, Elmon, Megasystem, Murex, Phu Widig and Wawenet.

The last company on the list Wawenet has been caught paying only about a fourth of the EUR15.03 per hour set as a minimum in the collective agreement. In addition, the company has failed to pay daily expense allowances, vacation allowances and some other mandatory fees. "The only way to sort out matters seems to be taking the companies to court as these companies are so unwilling to cooperate with trade unions", Luukkonen concludes.

Companies have not been inclined to cooperate any better with Finnish government inspectors. Authorities have so far not received the data on wages and benefits requested by inspectors despite repeated demands for them to comply. The initial request was issued last year. In a recent case Elektrobudowa was also caught using subcontractors that operated at the nuclear power plant construction site without the knowledge of the inspectors.

The main contractor of the plant, the French Areva, has been slow to react to the negligence of its subcontractors. Concerned Finnish trade unions have demanded that Areva put pressure on its subcontractors to give unions all essential data on their employees' working conditions.

Close cooperation between unions

The Finnish unions succeeded in establishing close mutual cooperation at the Olkiluoto already in the early stages of the long overdue project. Representatives of unions involved in the project have been meeting weekly. The protocol of each meeting is forwarded to the safety reps and to the management of the entire construction site.

The experience of this regular and extremely close cross union team work has been so positive that the participants now propose that a similar approach should be adopted and applied to all future large-scale construction projects. The unions involved at Olkiluoto are the Construction Union, the Metalworkers' Union, the Electrical Workers' Union and the union of salaried employees Pro.

Sources: Union magazines Vasama (5-2011 and 6-2011)
and Rakentaja (6-2011)