Covid-19 has forced the trainers to find new digital ways to train and learn without travelling.

Yhteiskunta ja osallisuus

Networking fosters mutual understanding of the common challenges faced by trade unions

The aim of international trade union cooperation is to improve working life everywhere in the world and to protect the interests of employees. By working together across borders, union representatives can learn from each other and share good practices.

In Finland, collective agreements largely define the conditions of employment, but in addition, there’s EU regulation and international agreements to be taken into account. International agreements are the protection of workers and guarantee minimum terms of employment, regardless of who is in power.

– In Finland, the status of an employee cannot be trampled upon as we are bound by international minimum standards. For example, the legislation ensures that working days cannot be too long and that occupational safety must be in order, says Pekka Ristelä, head of international affairs at Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions SAK.

In addition to domestic advocacy work, SAK aims at influencing matters at global, European and Nordic level. It carries out advocacy work both directly and through the international umbrella organizations of the trade union movement, and is thus involved in defining the common positions of the trade union movement.

The mission of the World Trade Union Confederation ITUC is to promote trade union co-operation and co-ordination in global affairs. The European Trade Union Confederation ETUC represents more than 60 million workers and their goals at European level. For example, the minimum level of labour protection legislation comes directly from the EU, and issues related to equality in working life have come a long way during the time Finland has been a member of the European Union.

– Legislation regarding the employment status of platform workers is currently being discussed in the EU, and we seek to influence that. International agreements and legislation provide a backbone in case there are any problems with employees\’ rights in Finland, Ristelä states.

European co-operation in training

A new co-operation network of trade union trainers from different countries is international co-operation at its best. The European Trade Union Institute ETUI is an independent research and training centre of ETUC. Its Finnish member unions are the central organizations SAK, STTK and Akava.

Every year, ETUI’s training department organizes dozens of courses on topical trade union issues across Europe for trade union workers and members. Admittedly, Covid-19 has forced the trainers to find new digital ways to train and learn without travelling.

– One of our most important tasks is to support the unions so that they can renew and develop their activities, says Vera dos Santos Costa, director of education at ETUI.

For example, climate change is a big challenge that has not been at the heart of trade union activities so far, but at ETUI, combating climate change is one of its main goals.

– We want to give individuals and trade unions tools to think differently so that people can accept the transformation, anticipate its consequences and be more prepared for the future.

The rise of populism and a just green transition are also hot topics at ETUI.

ETUI aims at helping trade unions to reform and renew comprehensively and systematically. To this end, it set up a new co-operation network in February 2021 including training expertise in leadership, coaching and transition.

– Our member organizations have a huge amount of educational competence and expertise. The aim of the new network is to bring together good experiences and various visions.

Dos Santos Costa reminds that Finnish trade unions are very different from their Italian counterparts. When different actors are put together, they learn from each other and create new ideas and solutions.

– In addition, one organization is a trailblazer in one matter, another one in another. By combining these, we find new ways to meet the challenges of trade unions.

Common solutions

Planner Antti Mäki from Workers’ Educational Association WEA is one of the trainers in the new network. Mäki’s expertise includes digital services and trade union organising work. Organising is networking, making contacts at work, advocacy work, and recruitment.

– Digital organising is part of a wider involvement of members, but with digital tools. We are taking this idea elsewhere in the network, as in many other countries they think that digital organising is just about recruiting members. However, it is about activating and involving members in a deeper and more comprehensive way.

Vera dos Santos Costa points out that many challenges are European-wide.

– For example, immigration is not just a problem for Germany or France; it affects us all. Through the network, we can create a common understanding of cross-border challenges and find a European solution to them.

Multi-cultural training team

In order for the trade union movement to have influence in the future, Antti Mäki feels it is important to support trade unions that are in a weaker position. For example, in Eastern European countries, trade union activists may have very inadequate digital skills.

– By being in the network, you also get an overall picture of the state of the European trade union movement. At the same time, you can take your own and WEA’s know-how elsewhere and create new and deeper relations to other actors.

ETUI decides on the topics of the courses and training organizations suggest suitable trainers. Out of all the proposals, ETUI puts together a multi-cultural team of trainers from different countries.

The range of topics is wide. Some of the courses are for decision-makers in trade unions. Others are open to all members, such as English language courses based on trade union vocabulary.

– If someone in Finland wants to take part in a course, (s)he needs to send us an application and we will ensure from the applicant’s trade union that the person is eligible to participate in the course, Mäki says.


Natasha Petrell
Tiina Sjelvgren, translation



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