Helsinki (31.05.1998 - Juhani Artto) The Nordic countries are often - and with justification - presented as model countries with respect to equality of the sexes. Concrete results in this area, however, are far from ideal in the opinion of Riitta Partinen, the SAK Secretary of Equal Opportunity. In Finland, as in all other countries in the world, women are still discriminated against in working life, even though in the Nordic countries this occurs in forms which are more covert than elsewhere.

"In earlier decades we believed that inequality would disappear when legislation was balanced, when women got as much formal education as men and when the problem of arranging day-care for small children was overcome. In the 1990s, however, we have had to recognise that all of this is not enough", Partinen says.

"We have been forced to deepen our analysis of the reasons why the many important steps which have been taken to create the conditions for equality have left us with so few concrete results in working life."

(20.05.1998 - Kimmo Kiljunen) Productivity is rising steadily. Over the current century output per hour has increased 25-fold. We are achieving production targets more easily and rapidly than ever before. All of this is extending available leisure time.

This increased leisure time can be divided evenly, bringing benefits to each and every one of us, or it can be managed by forcing part of the labour force to discontinue working life. Ultimately this choice is a political one.

Historically, some of the productivity increase has been used to shorten hours of work. At the beginning of this century the average working year in Finland was about 3,000 hours. Now it is only 1,700 hours.

In Summer 1917 Finland became the first country in the world to approve legislation on the eight hour working day.

Helsinki (07.05.1998 - Juhani Artto) Finnish people are favourably disposed towards the trade union movement. Of the three central trade union confederations, the largest - SAK - is held in highest esteem with almost two-thirds of the population (64 per cent) saying that they appreciate this organisation "rather a lot" or better.

The two other central trade union confederations, STTK and Akava, also earn a high score with positive responses of 58 and 54 per cent respectively.

These results are from a recent opinion poll conducted for SAK by Gallup Finland. 1008 Finnish people over 15 years of age and living in various parts of the country were interviewed.

Contrary to the commonly held view, those under 35 years of age had the strongest faith in trade unions when asked which organisation or institution is the most effective force in combating unemployment. Union movement was the first choice of 53 per cent of everyone interviewed. Lower-paid salaried employees also clearly had a higher than average belief in the ability of the union movement to fight unemployment.

Helsinki (05.05.1998 - Juhani Artto) In Finland, as in several other industrialised countries, mergers are taking place in the union movement.

Four private service sector unions in Finland's largest central trade union organisation, SAK, have begun negotiations which will probably lead to their merger in 2001. The four unions currently represent some 212,000 commercial workers, employees in the hotel and catering industry, building caretakers, cleaners, industrial guards, travel agency employees and workers in a large number of smaller sectors. Almost two thirds of these belong to the Union of Commercial Employees.

Helsinki (04.05.1998 - Kimmo Kevätsalo) We have constructed our union activism in the Nordic countries on the basis of a labour sales monopoly. The unions have sought to gather all employees working in an industry into a common cartel in which an agreement is made on a minimum wage and then nobody works for wages below the minimum.

If somebody, an unemployed worker for example, tries to break the cartel, then the organised workers take action to resist this. Employers are aware of this and usually honour the conditions of the cartel, i.e. the minimum conditions set out in the collective agreement.

It is a condition of the viability of such a cartel that the employers and workforce remain within the area covered by the agreement. Normally this area is defined by international borders.

Helsinki (20.04.1998 - UP/Kari Leppänen*) The Finnish labour market has moved into the era of EMU and of EMU incomes policy agreements, says Timo Kauppinen, research director of the Dublin-based European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions.

Kauppinen claims that a clear qualitative change began with the 1995 incomes policy agreement. The new direction was confirmed by the December 1997 incomes policy settlement.

"The essential difference with the past is that Finland clearly adapted to economic policy goals which were defined outside of the country, i.e. in the EMU criteria."

Helsinki (19.04.1998 - Juhani Artto) SAK, the largest central Finnish trade union organisation representing 1.1 million members in its affiliated unions, is to speed up computerisation of local union activists.

According to one SAK estimate, 5,000 - 10,000 union members are thinking about buying or renting a home computer before the end of this year. An agreement negotiated by an organisation as big as SAK would give these members a considerable discount and a strong incentive for individual investment decisions. SAK has asked for tenders for a package comprising a multimedia-equipped pentium, printer, modem and Internet connection. The individual rental or purchase agreement will be made between the union member and the equipment supplier.

Helsinki (07.04.1998 - Juhani Artto) To many people around the world, the Ikea brand signifies no more than homely furnishings. Recently, however, The Sunday Times exposed an uglier side of this giant, originally Swedish multinational concern.

The newspaper reported on working conditions at the Romanian Magura plant: one of Ikea's numerous subcontractors. On average its workers earn less than 17 US dollars for a 44-hour working week, i.e. about 40 cents per hour.

The Magura plant was privatised in 1992. The managers of the company became its new owners with the help of a loan provided by Ikea.

Helsinki (04.04.1998 - Juhani Artto) The Finns score high in per capita Internet connections and www-publications, but language sets limits on how thoroughly this northern European nation has integrated into the global electronic network. This can clearly be seen in the Finnish trade union movement.

While reading, writing, hearing and speaking English is almost daily routine for academics and the younger generation in Finland, for many other Finns language is still an isolating factor. Five million people speak Finnish, a language which is closely related to Estonian and to several very small minority languages spoken in Russia and also more distantly related to Hungarian.

The trade union organisations are accustomed to publishing materials in Finnish and in Swedish, which is the mother tongue of 300,000 Finns and the second official language in Finland. They have mainly used English and other international languages to advise their counterparts in other countries about the basic facts of the Finnish organised labour scene.

Stockholm (03.04.1998 - Rolf Ählberg*) Exposure to isocyanates is a more serious health hazard than has previously been realised, according to recent findings by scientists Gunnar Skarping, Marianne Dalene and their colleagues at Lund University Hospital in Sweden.

Nordic Metal (the confederation of metalworker unions in the Nordic countries) is working to fight these problems in a European context by seeking regulations on the use of products containing or discharging isocyanates.

What are isocyanates?

Isocyanates are basic chemicals. They are mainly used in producing polyurethane foam, polyurethane elastomers, polyurethane adhesives and polyurethane varnish.