Women (and men) workers in Finland’s transport industry

September 2013:

On the first day of the ETF Women’s Committee meeting, several Finnish transport trade unionists attended as guests, including women from the logistics, shipping, rail and salaried sectors. We also had a presentation from Tapio Bergholm, who has written a history of Finnish transport workers. The Finnish member of the ETF Women’s Committee is Satu, from the Finnish Seamen’s Union, who was elected one of the two Vice-Chairs of the Committee. The presentations and discussion revealed a lot of issues that are very similar to those experienced by UK transport workers, and was very thought-provoking. The key facts and issues covered were:

Employment and unemployment

  • Women’s employment rate in Finland is 68.2%, which is higher than the EU average.
  • Casualisation and part-time work is increasing.
  • The service sector is growing, which has meant that women’s jobs have not been hit as hard by the recession as men’s jobs; “outdoors male occupations are declining; indoors female occupations are increasing”.
  • Over the age of 40, women’s employment is higher than men’s.
  • Unemployment has led to the growth of the ‘shadow economy’, with an increase in criminal activity, gangs, etc, especially among men.

(Limited) progress for working women

  • Between 1966 and 1970, a committee set up by the (then left-wing) government researched the position of women with a view to improving it.
  • Full-time childcare provision has led to an increase in women’s employment.
  • Despite legislation for equal pay in 1962, women’ pay is still significantly low than men’s.
  • Low pay is a gender issue: there are more women paid less than €1800 per month than men earning less than €2000 per month.
  • Tapio concludes that: ‘Finland is not a paradise for working women’.

Gender segregation in the transport industry

There are strong differences in the proportions of men and women doing different types of work.

  • 55% of the trade union Pro (salaried grades) Pro’s membership is women.
  • The service sector is mainly women workers; the industrial sector is mainly men.
  • On Finnair, 92% of technical workers are men; 75% of cabin crew are women.
  • On the docks, the majority of technical workers are men; the majority of administrative workers are women.
  • 7% of women workers are in supervisory posts, compared with 26% (I think that’s what she said!) of men: one reason why there a fewer women in supervisory posts is that these posts require hours and flexibility that women are less likely to be able to give due to caring responsibilities.
  • Even disregarding sector and supervisory position, there is still a pay gap of 8% between men and women.
  • The majority of public sector workers in Finland are women.
  • Of 1000 railyard workers, only two are women.
  • Of 1770 train drivers, 36 are women

I asked about gender stereotyping of children through, for example, toys – an issue that RMT Women’s Conference has raised. Does, for example, the promotion of trains as ‘boys’ toys’ lead to gender segregation in adult working life? The reply was that yes, this is definitely an issue in Finland (as it is in the UK): the whole of society must address this, not just the trade unions. Sweden has addressed equality in childcare; Finland is addressing ‘gender sensitivity’ in the way that children are treated.

Unequal pay and gender segregation: the link

  • Why does unequal pay persist? Because those jobs which more men do are paid significantly more than those jobs which more women do.
  • Thus, the gender pay gap can be closed by: (a) reducing gender segregation, getting more women into jobs considered traditionally men’s jobs, and vice versa; and (b) reducing the pay gap between different jobs, by uplifting pay for jobs such as cleaning rather than cutting pay for jobs such as train driving!
  • There is an argument that, say, train drivers should be paid more than cleaners because they involve more responsibility, but this could be questioned on two levels: a train needs to be cleaned as well as driven, so both are important responsibilities; and why should pay be determined by responsibility?

Sexism at work

  • “Men workers often oppose women working there, and the public companies are not doing enough to challenge sexism and gender segregation. The employers must fix this! “
  • Men receive more training at work than women do.
  • Employers say that they will not hire women because they don’t have facilities such as changing rooms for women.
  • There are regular sexist comments at work.
  • Raising equality issues is considered to be ‘troublemaking’.
  • The law requires all companies to have an equality plan, and every workplace must have an employer/employee committee to discuss the company’s finances and equality issues.
  • The ‘Pro’ trade union carries out a twice-yearly statistical survey of members on equality issues, by email.

Violence and abuse against women at work 

There is a problem of violence against transport workers, including abuse against women workers which is sexist in nature eg. women workers being called ‘cunt’ or ‘whore’. Moreover, many women transport workers feel that they are patronised at work. Finnish trade unionists argued for a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards violence, abuse and patronisation.

Men’s position

There is concern about three areas of men’s position: unemployment; underperformance in education; lower life expectancy and greater rate of serious accidents. The SAK (equivalent of the UK TUC) is suggesting the government appoint a committee to look at men’s position in society. However, I would suggest that:

  • In all these three areas, men’s disadvantage is determined by class much more than by gender: it is working-class men who face unemployment, educational under-achievement and industrial accidents.
  • There is a danger that the proposal for a committee on men’s position would feed into a backlash against those advances that women have made: there are anti-feminist groups in Finland (as there are elsewhere).
  • Men’s position in the three areas identified is directly linked with gender segregation that also disadvantages women, so it would be a mistake to deal with them separately as ‘men’s issues’.
  • Therefore, a committee to look at gender in work and society would be better.

General points

  • All public sector companies are up for sale. This is in line with European Union anti-trust laws, but the right-wing government seems to be going along with it willingly, rather than being reluctantly forced by the EU.
  • The largest party in the Finnish government is the National Coalition (the equivalent of the UK Conservatives). The Green Party is also part of the government, and holds the position of Transport Ministry. It is selling the state-owned transport companies: while I was in Helsinki, it was confirmed that the oil tanker company was sold.
  • The Finnish trade unions are currently renegotiating collective bargaining agreements with the government and the employers. There is a deadline in late October for this to be completed.
  • There has been a common Scandinavian labour market since the 1950s. Migration to work is nothing new, and many Finns work in Sweden.

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