News / 11.11.2010

Can you sack people in secrecy?

In October five workers of SuomiTV received an invitation to negotiations in which they were threatened with paying damages if they revealed the contents of the negotiations or even their very existence to outsiders.

Valtteri Aaltonen, ombudsman at the Union of Journalists in Finland considers such threats appalling. They are under threat of losing their jobs and yet are not allowed to tell their situation to anyone, not even members of their families.

“It is completely unprecedented to try to hold co-determination negotiations in secret by threatening”, says Aaltonen.

SuomiTV, which began broadcasting only in December last year, is one of the six main commercial television channels in Finland. Its license is up for renewal in 2016.

Jaana Syrjänen of Borenius & Kemppinen, the company’s lawyers says the workers were only reminded of the law governing the confidentiality of co-determination negotiations.

“Everyone is asked to evaluate what secrecy contains and what it means”, she says.

However, Valteri Aaltonen observes that the firm has the obligation to single out what issues are to be held secret. The holding of co-determination negotiations is not one such issue.

“The conduct of the lawyers is downright inappropriate. If certain issues are not secret under the law, no obligation for damage payment should arise from them”, says Aaltonen.

 A person can therefore still tell his relatives if his job is under threat, he sums it all up.

SuomiTV also pre-selected five of its employees who were the target of the negotiations. It was only they who received the invitation. Managing Director Jarmo Kalliola, admitted to that.

“It is decided beforehand who are the targets of the negotiations”, he told Journalisti.

The Union of Journalists in Finland considers the negotiations illegal.

“I have not seen any co-determination negotiations in which those to be laid off would be so openly selected beforehand”, says Valteri Aaltonen.

He observes that the purpose of co-determination negotiation is to have a holistic view and then after that determine who would possibly be laid off.

Three of the five workers called to the negotiations are office workers.

Jarmo Kalliola told Journalisti that cost-cutting measures could have targeted others other than the five selected workers. His justification for the choice is that cost-cutting measures are clearly targeting that category of workers.

“So the employer has decided the target of cost-cutting measures already before the beginning of negotiations and has foreclosed others except the options targeting the five selected persons”, Aaltonen points out.

The workers were forced to sit in the negotiations without a representative because there are no shop stewards in SuomiTV. Representatives of the Journalists Union requested to have a seat at the negotiation table or some other meeting with representatives of the company but the company lawyers refused the request.

During the negotiations the Journalists Union sent an objection to the leadership of the TV channel condemning the manner in which the co-determination negotiations were held.

After that the lawyer of SuomiTV wanted an explanation concerning the Journalist Union and its contacts with members of the union who were in the negotiations. He wanted to know whether any oath of confidentiality had been breached.

Aaltonen observes that everyone has right to legal assistance and to tell his needs to his lawyer, who is under the oath of confidentiality.

SuomiTV’s harsh cost-cutting measures mean that the channel’s budget will be reduced to a third. The same will happen to daily broadcast time: programming will focus on daytime prime time and during the weekends. Saving measures will also affect material purchased from freelancers. In addition the administration of the company will be outsourced.

According to Jarmo Kalliola the company’s finance will be safe if the saving measures succeed.

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