Trade Unions Speak with the Voice of the University Community

The collective employment conditions negotiations ended in March, when the settlement proposal was accepted after a period of over a month when no agreement was in force. Now that some time has passed since the negotiations, there is cause to evaluate the process keeping in mind that new negotiations are coming up in less than two years — rather soon, that is.

The negotiations revealed the problems of the current negotiation culture in a glaring way. The representatives of the employees’ side wanted to talk about, for example, improving the preconditions of research, new methods of teaching in the working time system, accounting for telecommuting and traveling work better, and ways to decrease the amount of temporary contracts.

The representative of the employer apparently wanted to test what could be gained with a combination of delaying and stubbornness: The Association of Finnish Independent Education Employers declined, until the expiration of the old agreement, to discuss the personnel’s initiatives to develop the employment conditions. Everything was subordinate to the two objectives of the employer: low wage increases and increasing the employer’s dictation power in the wage system.

Were the actions of the employers’ association in the interests of the university in all respects? The boards of universities should investigate this carefully, because the employers’ association has been given instructions by the universities. If developing the employment conditions is suppressed in order to increase the dictation power of the other party, the negotiation culture contains elements that can harm universities. This will benefit no one.

Even though the labour market is viewed as a power game, it needs to be possible to develop contracts. In the next negotiations, we cannot dig ourselves in or the attractiveness of universities as workplaces may begin to suffer.

During the negotiations, the trade organisations managed to talk in a way that spoke to both the members of the university community and to the greater public. In trade organizations, employees are understood, because the members make the decisions in the organisations. Our motto was: we do not want the moon from the sky. We want to modernize the contract, to develop well-being at work and, through that, develop quality and profitability.

An exceptionally large front of citizens and trade organizations set out to support the members of the university community. This was visible, among other things, in the wave of solidarity in social media. The other member organisations of the Negotiation Organisation for Public Sector Professionals (JUKO) left their completed negotiation results unsigned until an agreement was reached in the universities. The Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors JHL’s decision to stop the rail freight transport and, through that, a part of export in order to support universities was also historic.

The strike front associated with the agreement negotiations connected personnel across university borders. The personnel can, if only it so desires, affect universities’ modes of operation and structures more than now. In Tampere in February, there was a walk out against plotting and for more democratic regulations. It is possible to elect members who support democratic to the university boards in elections. University boards need to be demanded that they look after the interest of the universities also in a negotiation situation.

There are clear reasons to strengthen the status of the personnel. Democracy belongs in universities: members of the university community are not receptive to orders and commands; instead they think independently and want to have an influence on things. The personnel and students get the basic funding and even the external funding with their own work, even though this money is controlled by the management. For the personnel, committing to the freedom of science, the arts and teaching is a question of identity. This identity is the basis of the existence of universities. As an overseer of this, the personnel is uncompromising.

Seppo Sainio
Chair, The Union for University Teachers and Researchers in Finland, YLL

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