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.

Helsinki (10.10.1998 - Linus Atarah) An integral part of the National Programme on Aging Workers, launched earlier this year, includes a scheme for people over 45 years in working life to boost their working ability. A scheme of that nature falls within the overall framework and objectives of the programme which is aimed at improving the working conditions of ageing people so as to prolong their retirement age.

Details of the measures in the project are yet to be worked out, says Heidi Paatero, Secretary-General of the Advisory Board of Rehabilitation at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. But according to her, it would differ in some respects from the traditional methods of rehabilitation because a central focus will be to identify some of the endemic factors in the working environment which inhibit people's performing capabilities or generate occupational illnesses.

Helsinki (03.10.1998 - Juhani Artto) The five-year GRAM project, which began in 1995, has given a strong boost to vocational education in the Finnish graphical industry. Media Workers Union secretary Pekka Lahtinen believes that by the end of next year more than 800 skilled workers will have passed a demanding vocational examination. The new system of vocational exams in various industries was set up by the authorities in 1994.

An examination pass shows that the worker is able to make effective use of the most modern technology and also has good knowledge of its theoretical basis. Before taking the exam, most candidates have participated in either 120 or 60-day courses. One third of these courses comprises theoretical studies and the remaining two thirds consists of guided practical training at the workplace.

Petrozavodsk (29.09.1998 - Juhani Artto) The Republic of Karelia is part of north-western Russia. For many Finns Karelia is a highly emotional issue because a large part of the region belonged to Finland until 1944. At that time 400,000 Finns lost their homes and their property in Karelia and were resettled in various provinces of post-war Finland.

Another natural reason for the considerable interest shown by Finland in Karelia is the long common border. The Fenno-Russian border is 1269 kilometres long. In the north, Finland borders the Murmansk region and in the south, the Leningrad region surrounding St. Petersburg. The Republic of Karelia lies between these two regions and has a 700 kilometre border with Finland.

780.000 people currently live in the Republic of Karelia. The principal ethnic groups are Russians (74 %), Karelians (11 %), Belorussians (7 %), Ukrainians (3 %) and Finns (3 %). The ethnic Karelians are linguistically and ethnically closely related to the Finns.

Helsinki (17.09.1998 - Juhani Artto) The globalisation of corporate life is increasing the role of cross-border sympathetic industrial action. This means that the legal framework of cross-border sympathetic industrial action is becoming a vital issue for the trade union movement.

This is the starting point of a new study by the Finnish legal researcher Juri Aaltonen LL.M. commissioned by the Finnish Metalworkers Union. The 210-page study describes and compares conditions in the 15 Member States of the EU. The work was published in Finnish in late August and will be available in English in December.

The legal considerations pertaining to international sympathetic industrial action vary widely between the EU countries. However, the terms "sympathetic industrial action" and "international sympathetic industrial action" are known in all of them. There is no country in which an agreement to refrain from industrial action prevents the organisation of sympathetic industrial action.

Helsinki (14.09.1998 - Juhani Artto) For most working Finns the holiday period is now over and soon the Summer will be as well.

There is a noticeable contrast in Finland between summers, when the sun stays above the horizon until late at night, and the dark, cold winter months. Correspondingly, ordinary Finns have two widely varying ways of life. One consists of work, bills, hurry and noise causing a dangerous degree of stress, while the other is more or less opposite to all that with leisure, long unhurried days and little stress. With reason, one can speak of a double life lived by a whole nation.

by Russell Snyder*

(07.09.1998) A father's role in pregnancy and childbirth is taken very seriously in Finland. After all, it takes two to tango and the father must share the responsibility for bringing a new life into the world. It is very gratifying for a man to know he played an important part in the child bearing process and that his wife was able to rely on his support.

When my wife got pregnant with our first child, neither one of us knew much about what we were getting into. When she got morning sickness I tried to find something she could eat without throwing up; when she got dizzy spells I tried to support her or at least catch her before she fell; and when she had mood swings I tried to be tolerant or at least hold my tongue. We both read lots of books, magazines and brochures about pregnancy and childbirth (she in Finnish and I in English), we attended three parenting classes together, and went on a tour of a hospital maternity ward.

Helsinki (16.08.1998 - Kimmo Kiljunen*) The average Finn has a higher income level nowadays than ever before. It is therefore incredible that the economy and ordinary welfare service provision should be in such a critical condition. The problem cannot be lack of material resources. Rather it is a question of finding the political will for social development.

The main problem is a tendency to make employees pay for economic problems in the public sector. In many municipalities, decision-makers try to balance their budgets by temporarily laying off staff and in the worst cases even though redundancies.

This policy undermines morale among employees, making efforts to improve the economy still more difficult. Expertise and co-operation between municipal staff is essential if local government functions are to be made more effective and rationalised. Lay-offs and the threat of redundancies are poorly suited to this aim.