Victory for Workers’ Rights in Finland

From Building and Wood Worker’s International

Finnish wage regulations and collective agreements should apply equally to everyone who works in Finland. That is the outcome of a new ruling by the European Court of Justice.

”The decision has great importance for both Finland the European Union as a whole”, said Martti Alakoski, chair of the Finnish Electrical Workers Union after the announcement on the 12th of February.

In short, the ruling finds that all employees must be payed basic wages, holiday bonuses and all other benefits in the general collective agreement – regardless of whether the company sending the employee is based in another member state of the EU.

The case concerns 186 Polish electricians who have been working on the construction of the nuclear power plant Olkiluoto 3, but were employed by a sub-contractor based in Poland. After discovering that they earned much less than their Finnish colleagues, they joined the Finnish Electrical Workers’ Union and demanded to be payed according to the pay rates, allowances and other benefits in the collective agreement.

In total the pay claims amounts to more than 6,5 million euros from the Polish company. The employer refused to meet the demands and referred to Polish law, according to which employees are not allowed to assign their pay claims to a union.

The union then turned to the District Court to solve the issue, which in turn asked the European Court of Justice to express an opinion on how to interpret the concept of minimum rates pay in the Posting of Workers Directive, and whether Polish employees were entitled to assign their pay claims to the union for collection.

The new ruling by the European Court of Justice sets aside the ban in the Polish law. According to the ruling, it is irrelevant that the company sending the employee is based in another member state of the EU – which has been a common argument by many employers not only in Finland but also in other parts of Europe.

All employees working in Finland must be paid according to Finnish pay scales, and a business coming from another EU-member state to Finland must comply with the pay regulations of the generally binding collective agreement.

“The judgment settles the issue of the terms and conditions on which European Union businesses may operate in other Member States”, says Jari Hellsten, a lawyer engaged on a European Union collective bargaining project for SAK and the Finnish trade union movement.

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