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Nieminen warns against outside interference

The collective bargaining agreement negotiations between journalists and their employers have begun with journalists’ representatives firing off a warning against outside interference.

Linus Atarah

The negotiations are between the Union of Journalists in Finland (SJL) and Federation of the Finnish Media Industry (Finnmedia). But the Confederation of Finnish industries (EK), representing employer associations is casting a long shadow over the negotiations.

According to Arto Nieminen, president of SJL, EK are sending messages to Finnmedia negotiators in an attempt to dictate the terms of pay rise even though they are not a party to the negotiations.

According to Nieminen, such external influence is against the spirit of free collective bargaining and, “I can’t just accept that. The unions should have their own negotiation guidelines”, Nieminen said in a telephone interview.

“Those who are parties should be sitting at the table beside each other”, Nieminen lashed out.

But while fending off outside interference, Nieminen also called on the unions to face up to realities when it comes to pay rise. He pointed out that the unions should recognize the diversities in the various sectors of the economy they represent and accept that there is bound to be differences in pay rise at the end of the negotiations.

“In different branches the amount of pay rise could be very different because every branch has its own situation, for instance, the situation of the forest sector is quite different from the print media and therefore should not be considered as one” he said.

The negotiations which began last week have so far focused on working hours of journalists and have not yet touched on issues connected with pay rises. According to Nieminen, journalists across the media spectrum are bending over double under enormous workload. “They are very, very overworked at the moment”, he said.

The month-long negotiations will go on till the end of April, because a new agreement has to be in place at the beginning of May.

The current negotiations involve only journalists in the print media, representing a little over 5000 members, taking place concurrently with non-journalists, i.e., print and white-collar workers negotiating separately with the employers.

Separate negotiations with the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) and the commercial broadcast media will begin in September, says Nieminen.

On the part of freelance journalists, Nieminen says the current negotiations are aimed at providing shop stewards in the media houses with the rights to have more information on how the media houses use the works of freelancers and, also the power to negotiate for freelance journalists.

At the moment freelance journalists are treated as entrepreneurs and are therefore left out of the sphere of collective bargaining agreement negotiations. The end result is that they are unable to negotiate their incomes with employers. They are also striving in the current negotiations to include guidelines that would provide clarifications on what to do when media companies start to commission work from outside sources.

As for the social security of freelance journalists such as employment benefits and sick leave, Nieminen said that the union is lobbying to have them included in the legislation when a new government takes over after the coming general elections.

It is not yet clear on the preferred duration of a new collective agreement at the end of the negotiations. There are two options, says Nieminen. One option is to sign a collective agreement which would last one year and the other option is a longer collective agreement of up to three years. If negotiators go for the latter that would mean that only this year’s pay rise would be written into a new agreement and subsequent pay rise would be left open to be negotiated later.

The issues of pay rise has not yet been discussed at the negotiations but according to Nieminen, the employers would prefer a lump sum of pay rise to be negotiated at the national level and individual workers’ pay arising from that would then be determined in later negotiations at the company level.

But Nieminen says the unions would reject that in favour of a general pay rise for everyone to be agreed already at the national level.

The board of the journalists’ union would present the specifics of how much pay rise should be proposed after its meeting later this month.