Helsinki (31.01.1999 - Juhani Artto) Both during and since the Soviet Era the world media have often focused their attention on Murmansk, a city of half a million residents in the north-western corner of Russia. In the West, the interest has mainly concentrated on military issues, as for decades Murmansk has been an important naval port. Factual and speculative reports about its nuclear facilities and risks are numerous.

Finnish construction workers and their union organisations have long been interested in Murmansk for quite different reasons. In the 1990s, hundreds of Finnish construction workers have been employed on construction projects in Murmansk. The Finns have erected office buildings and schools and have helped to modernise residential buildings.

Cross border co-operation between the construction worker trade unions of Murmansk and Northern Finland began in the 1960s. Up to the end of 1980s their main activity was an annual exchange of delegations for discussions, but in the early 1990s the parties agreed to change the character of their co-operation. They chose as the main areas union education and the concrete struggle for better working conditions in the construction industry.

Helsinki (29.01.1999 - Juhani Artto) Mid-December 1999 is the deadline for the fifteen Member States of the EU to harmonise their legislation with Directive 96/71/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the posting of workers in the framework of the provision of services.

The initiative that led to the Directive was originally proposed in 1989 by EFBWW, the European Federation of Building and Wood Workers. In 1991 the European Commission published its first version of the Directive. This would have allowed workers sent by a company in a low-pay country to work in a high-pay country for three months at the wage levels of the low-pay country. Such social dumping was and remains unacceptable to the trade unions and would also question the rationale of the European internal market. In 1993 the Commission reduced the disputed time to one month.

After fierce lobbying by the trade union movement and by many employer organisations, the Directive finally approved does not envisage even a single day of work for low pay on the building sites of a high-pay country. In installation work the Directive permits eight days of work at the lower wages and salaries of the sender country.

Helsinki (11.01.1999 - Juhani Artto) Who's afraid of isocyanates? Hundreds of thousands of workers in Europe and elsewhere should be, warns the Finnish Metalworkers Union.

Isocyanates are a hidden danger. It may take several years until exposure leads to noticeable symptoms. Moreover regular measuring methods were unable for many years to give an accurate picture of the insidious isocyanate content of the working environment.

In 1996 Swedish researchers Marianne Dalene and Gunnar Skarping provided a new measuring method which could show isocyanate concentrations up to a hundred times higher than those shown by earlier methods.

Helsinki (14.12.1998 - Juhani Artto) Four service worker unions plan to merge in 2001. The letter of intent was signed in early December. With more than 200,000 members the new trade union will become the second largest in Finland. The Municipal Sector Trade Union has 228,000 members.

The merging unions are the Union of Commercial Employees (130,000 members), the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union (51,000 members), the Union of Technical and Special Trades (10,000 members) and the Caretakers Union (13,000 members). More than 80 per cent of the members in the two larger unions are women.

Many factors favour the merger. It will improve organising and lobbying power and helps to build trade union unity, as the members of these unions partly work in the same places. Recently some of the parties were involved in a bitter dispute about which union should organise cleaning staff.

Helsinki (07.12.1998) In Finland a huge majority, i.e. 87 %, is of the opinion that difficulties in coping with workloads, and even burn out, currently constitute a major problem at work. Only 28 % think that productivity could be increased even further in order to be more competitive in the international market place.

These results were discovered during a survey on the present labour market climate, which was conducted by Finnish Gallup on behalf of SAK, the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions. During August and September, 1021 Finns over the age of 15 were interviewed. These interviewees were representative of the population of that age group throughout Finland, with the exception of the Åland Islands.

The problem of coping with workloads is particularly significant amongst the members of SAK, at 91 %, and amongst those of STTK, the Finnish Confederation of Salaried Employees, at 96 %. Excessively tight work schedules were mentioned by 84 % of the members of AKAVA, the Confederation of Unions for Academic Professionals in Finland. Women are more concerned with the complications resulting from workload difficulties and cases of burn out, 92 % of them seeing this as an issue, whilst 81 % of men have a similar view.

Helsinki (28.11.1998 - Juhani Artto) Transnational collective bargaining has become increasingly common in Europe over the last few years. In spite of this trend, national agreements will continue to underpin the collective agreement system in Finland and other EU countries. European-level agreements will complement national collective agreement systems.

Thus is the view taken by Heikki Pohja, head of the Brussels bureau of the three Finnish central trade union confederations: SAK, STTK and Akava, speaking at the end of October at the "European Trade Union Movement" seminar in Helsinki.

"The situation differs from the 1980s when European collective bargaining did not yet exist" notes Pohja.

The main players are the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the employer organisations UNICE and CEEP. There are also industry-based negotiations in which the trade union movement is represented by fourteen International Trade Secretariats.

Helsinki (20.11.1998 - Juhani Artto) Last year 37 per cent of wage and salary earners in Finland felt they had good opportunities for personal development at work. Twenty years ago 28 per cent of employees felt the same way. This is one of the positive trends in working life shown in surveys conducted by Statistics Finland. In its new book this institution compares the working conditions of wage and salary earners in 1977, 1984, 1990 and 1997.

What are the most significant changes?

The high unemployment caused by the 1990-1993 recession has strongly influenced the importance attached by employees to their work. On the eve of the recession 25 per cent of employees considered their work to be "very important and significant". By 1997 this proportion had risen to 40 per cent.

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.

Helsinki (25.10.1998 - Maarit Huhtaniemi**) Anja Lamberg is a mechanic who assembles frequency transformers. She earns much more than a mechanic in Asia. However, her weekly working hours at the ABB factory in Helsinki are shorter than those in Far-East industrial plants.

Since the Asian devaluation spiral one might think that transferring production from Finland to cheap labour countries would be more profitable than ever. Finnish companies disagree.

It is the production model that makes the difference between a cheap labour country and Finland. On an Asian assembly line women sit side by side performing work divided into short stages. In Finland there are often production cells made up of multi-skilled employees. The cell assembles the product from beginning to end according to the customer's order.

Asikkala (13.10.1998 - Lauri Muranen**) Rapala is transferring its labour intensive production stages from Asikkala in Finland to Estonia. The company currently employs about 60 workers at its Estonian factory in Pärnu. As Rapala's production grows and natural wastage reduces the number of staff in Asikkala, the company is employing more workers in Pärnu.

Production manager Juhani Pehkonen refers to a transfer of 40 jobs within two years as the rate of job reductions in Asikkala and job increases in Pärnu.

"At the moment we have about 240 employees in Asikkala. In two years we shall still have more than 200 jobs." Pehkonen emphasises that the reduction will be based entirely on natural wastage.