Helsinki (23.11.2000 - Juhani Artto) Exceptionally thorough preparations have preceded the merger of four service industry unions on 28–29 November in Helsinki. Work for the merger began as long ago as 1994.

The new service industry union PAM will have over 200,000 members. The national organisations due to merge are the Union of Commercial Workers (129,700 members), the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union (48,000), the Caretakers Union (13,400) and the Technical and Special Trades Union (10,400). A total of 260 employees will work in PAM's headquarters and in its 19 regional offices. 90 of these will serve the various regions, 70 will work in the union's unemployment fund and the remaining 100 will be based in its Helsinki headquarters.

"The 260 employees and hundreds of members in the administrative organs of the four unions have conducted several joint seminars to purge groundless fears and prejudices and to smooth the merger of different working cultures and traditions. Specialists have played an important role at these meetings, identifying problems and sharing the experiences of the previous mergers that have occurred, for example, in the banking sector" says Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union President Jorma Kallio.

Since January 2000 the four unions have published a joint newspaper, also called PAM, which replaced papers previously published by the four unions. A website for PAM is under construction. Three of the four unions have maintained homepages of their own. In mid-November a joint service office was opened for the Helsinki Metropolitan Area and its immediate environs, covering more than one quarter of the new union's rank and file members.

Draft articles of association were prepared back in the spring to enable 300 branches of the four unions to reorganise their affairs harmoniously. Elections at the founding meeting are also expected to go smoothly. Maj-Len Remahl, the President of the Commercial Workers Union, has the support of policy makers in the other unions in her bid to become PAM's first President. Jorma Kallio has been nominated for the post of first Vice President.

The branches of the four unions are not due to merge at this stage. "We are in no hurry to merge the branches. This may become an attractive alternative later, especially in smaller associations, but even here this could be done only after a thorough discussion of the pros and cons at all levels.

One indicator of the complexity of the merger is that the four unions are parties to a total 70 collective agreements. A dozen of these are among the most important national agreements. Jorma Kallio stresses that one long-term goal is to reduce the number of agreements by creating a common basic agreement covering most of the rank file. This basic agreement would be accomplished with specialised industry-specific agreements on wages, salaries and working hours.

On the other side of the negotiating table PAM will face five national employer federations.

The merged union covers, for example, types of work in large supermarkets that until now have been represented by two or three unions. "We shall now be able to have a more coherent collective bargaining policy than was previously possible with a combination of unions", Kallio notes.

Expectations have been voiced, but no precise calculations made of the synergy savings that the merger will enable. Extra costs will arise initially due to heavy investment in telecommunications and office equipment. All of the employees at the new union's headquarters will soon work under the same roof.

One advantage is certain to materialise. The merger will put a stop to conflicts regarding which collective agreement should be applied in various overlapping sectors such as supermarket coffee shops. However the founding of PAM will not end all demarcation disputes in the trade union movement. Some collisions are difficult to avoid in services where private subcontractors and State and municipal organisations tender for the same orders.

"Problems are caused by employers seeking to push the unions into a race for the bottom rung caused by a preference for the cheapest tenders", Kallio explains. "When preparing PAM's labour market debut we have had fruitful discussions with the State and municipal workers' trade unions."

Kallio also sounds optimistic when speaking about new prospects for increasing the organising rate. "Investment in strong regional service centres will extend our reach to small companies and remote areas", he explains.

The two minor parties in the merger will definitely gain from improved opportunities to play a role at European level. "Until now their resources have been too limited for proper monitoring and influence on European level matters." Kallio point out.

One potentially very important aspect of the new union will be a much more active approach to organising self-employed workers. Where trade union work in Finland has traditionally focused purely on employees, the articles of association of PAM and of its various branches now provide explicitly for self-employed members to organise within the union. This area involves certain legal and technical difficulties arising from the fact that many of the employment and social security rights that unions defend are either reserved exclusively for employees, or are enjoyed by them on much more favourable terms. The new union has, however, been persuaded by the fact that self-employed sole traders often have similar problems to those of employees, and that such workers can also benefit in many ways from union membership.