‘Who authorised you to demand a pay rise now, in the current circumstances?’ This was a question raised by a member in an email I received this winter. It is not uncommon in my line of work for things that I take for granted to be less self-evident to others.
The question forced me to rethink the logic behind us negotiating salary increases in a situation where change negotiations initiated in one university due to financial reasons were in the final stretch, and prices across the board were rising due to the current world events.
The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers (FUURT) has recently undergone some rebranding. We talk about a union that is open to everyone involved in research and science, and we want to create a community that includes all these people. Ultimately, however, we are an advocacy organisation whose job is to protect the interests of our members in all work-related matters. One of the key reasons for establishing trade unions such as ours was to ensure members’ wage and salary growth and to maintain their purchasing power.
Over the years, there have been different approaches to negotiating pay rises — sometimes centrally, at the moment not-quite-so-centrally (there are some differing views on this), and locally. This winter, individual trade unions and employer organisations reached an agreement on the second-year pay increases laid down in collective agreements last year. Collective agreements are concluded between trade unions and employer organisations, and they define the salaries, working hours and other key terms and conditions of employment in each sector of industry. Collective agreements are renewed every few years, allowing them to flexibly take into account changes in the sector, legislative changes, and the social and economic situation, as explained in our previous blog post (in Finnish).
‘Ultimately, however, we are an advocacy organisation whose job is to protect the interests of our members in all work and salary related matters.’
This year, the negotiations revolved largely around the increased cost of living. On a number of occasions, we raised awareness on social media of how our members’ real earnings have plummeted amidst soaring inflation. If it was left to individual employees to negotiate their own pay rises to maintain their purchasing power, more likely than not the vast majority would see a standstill in their salary development. An individual employee does not have the same bargaining power as employees collectively, represented by a union.
In salary negotiations, FUURT is represented by Akava’s negotiation organisations JUKO (publicly funded sectors) and YTN (private sector and organisations). In March, dozens of salary negotiations produced results, for instance in the technology sector, private companies, the church sector, central government, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and most recently, universities. Our members are employed in all these sectors. FUURT has closely followed these negotiations and actively supported the negotiators by providing information on the needs of members in different sectors. We have also taken measures to increase our members’ readiness for industrial action, which is important to advance the negotiations.
Over the next 11 months, the salaries of university employees will, deservedly, increase by 5.5 per cent, and by another 0.5 per cent in 2024 based on local arrangements. This is still nowhere near the level of inflation, which stood at 8.4 per cent in January. We were also able to negotiate an exceptional one-off payment which will be paid out this spring and will also reach the pockets of those with the lowest salaries.
Decisions regarding FUURT’s advocacy positions are made by the Union Board, which consists of representatives elected by our member associations in the Union Meeting. They outline the goals which the Union’s employees will pursue together with local activists and elected representatives. Within Akava, we work closely together with various trade unions and believe that together we have the power to stand up for our members in the face of global turmoil. What matters most to our members is a long and stable employment outlook. The pay rises will safeguard their earnings development for the next two years.
PhD, Executive Director, former shop steward and an active trade union member since 2005