Helsinki (09.11.1998 - Juhani Artto) McDonald's and its franchisees have 4,000 employees in Finland. Recently its union activists achieved a historic breakthrough. After difficult negotiations the McDonald's company in Finland signed an agreement recognising two regional shop stewards who together cover the whole country.

They represent 1,500 workers at 30 McDonald's restaurants. Employees of the 55 franchised restaurants are not covered by the agreement.

The new shop steward system divides the country into two parts. The Helsinki Metropolitan Area and surrounding province of Uusimaa forms one region, while the rest of the country is the other. The first shop stewards are 26 year-old Joni Maijala from Helsinki and 28 year-old Petri Puumalainen from Vaasa. The average age of McDonald's employees is 21.

Earlier this year Puumalainen became the first health and safety representative at the Finnish McDonald's, after being democratically elected by the company's employees. He also represents McDonald's Finnish employees in the European Works Council, which met last Summer in Greece. According to Puumalainen, besides him, only the Swedish and French employee representatives had a trade union background.

In EU countries McDonald's and its franchised outlets have some 300,000 employees, while globally the figure is 1.5 million.

To attend to his new duties, having been recognised by the employer, Puumalainen has about 60 hours of paid leave every three weeks and a computerised office supplied by the company.

The short working hours of part-time workers have already long been one of the problems which Puumalainen and his fellow union activists have sought to tackle. "Employees want security instead of random work schedules and the standby principle", Puumalainen says. "Lack of security has been one the central motivations for many to take an interest in getting organised."

The Hotel and Restaurant Workers' Union estimates that the number of workers with permanent full-time jobs in the fast-food chains can be counted in tens rather than in hundreds.

In Finland McDonald's joined the employers' confederation soon after settling in this Northern European country with a long tradition of strong trade unionism and generally constructive industrial relations. In most other countries the multinational prefers to stay unorganised.

Another fast food chain is Carrols, which is owned by the Kesko group, a FIM 35 billion (1 FIM = 0,20 USD) wholesaler of foodstuffs, clothing and a very broad range of other products. Carrols operates 49 hamburger restaurants in Finland, seven in Russia and four in Estonia. Carrols employees have a regional shop steward in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. Riikka Kraft is the current post holder.

Jorma Kallio, President of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers' Union, says that there has also been some progress at Hesburger, another domestic fast-food chain. Employees have begun to organise and the union is currently negotiating with Hesburger on how to define the various regions covered by the shop stewards.

The Hotel and Restaurant Workers' Union has 55,000 members, 18,000 of whom are under 30 years of age.