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The Finish Aviation Union grows while moving away from Finnair

The Finish Aviation Union grows while moving away from Finnair

| Text: Carl-Gustav Lindén, Photo: Cata Portin

Members of the Finnish Aviation Union have gone through turbulent changes in recent years. Companies have been sold or partly outsourced, some have gone bust and employees have struggled to keep up with all the trade union negotiations.

Now the Chairman of the Finnish Aviation Union, Juhani Haapasaari, says some 3,700 ground crew, catering and technical maintenance members have learned to live with constant negotiations. 

“The number of members has not shrunk despite all the lay-offs. Low-cost flights mean more work. Finnair is still important and the flights to Asia bring a lot of work, we wish them well.”

Employees also have more legs to stand on as a result of the reduced dominance of one single employer. Because the trade union has binding collective agreements covering all members and all employers, it is not exposed to attempts at dumping salaries and social privileges in the same way as those who depend on agreements which are limited to one company.

“We try to avoid pay gaps in the aviation industry and we have prepared in good time,” says Haapsaari.

The same terms and costs apply to all employers. Most jobs are also of the kind which cannot be moved abroad. The only exception is servicing of Finnair’s aircraft engines which has been partly moved to Switzerland, while a Miami company has moved into Finnair’s old workshop.

Quite the opposite

Things are actually moving in the opposite direction, as Haapasaari’s neighbours in the office, The Finnish Cabin Crew Union, recently learnt.

The latest news is that the airline Norwegian promises Finnish salary levels and privileges to its Estonian cabin crew who work in Finland. So far they have been tied to Estonian terms and conditions via the Estonia registered personnel company Runway, from which the airline hires personnel. Now Norwegian has ended the agreement and entered a new one with Proffice Aviation, which tells new job seekers that Finnish terms and conditions apply from 2013. 

It is Thelma Åkers, head of the cabin crew union, who tells us the news when we meet in Juhani’s office. It is confirmed by her colleague, lawyer Heli Hartman-Mattila, who says she does not know why Runway didn’t choose to change their practice. 

It turns out Proffice is following a different collective agreement which has been reached by another trade union, Pro, which is not generally binding and applies to jobs below the level cabin crew are on.


Juhani Haapasaari says they have been wondering whether Finnair and Norwegian are considering a merger. Finnair’s CEO MikaFinnair small Vehviläinen told a newspaper that “SAS is ruining the atmosphere”. The Finnish state is a major Finnair shareholder, but the government minister with responsibility for transport has publicly stated that the state must reduce their ownership to prepare for possible structural changes. 

Norwegian might wants to demonstrate that it is a reliable company which sticks to the agreement. The Finnish Regional State Administrative Agencies, the state watchdog, has said companies which mainly operate in Finland must follow local agreements. 

Crisis year

Juhani Haapasaari was elected chairman in 2007 when Finnair presented their best result ever. Then came the financial crisis and the airline quickly lost altitude and was soon forced to try saving its economy through cuts and restructuring. The Aviation Union started negotiating redundancy protection in return for pay cuts, and the first agreement, covering technicians, was ready in 2009. 

That same day Finnair’s CEO Jukka Hienonen resigned and talks stalled. Haapasaari then approached Finnair’s Chairman who told him the company no longer wanted a stabilisation deal. The airline tried other solutions instead which were not successful. 

An agreement with Barona Handling on baggage handling broke down after only a year and Swissport came in instead. The catering business was now up for grabs and LSG Sky Chefs were ready to buy, but its owners, Lufthansa, said no. Instead, Finnair hired the business out to Lufthansa’s LSG Sky Chefs on a five year contract. 

“So the catering personnel were Finnair employees while working for a different employer. Later Lufthansa sold the business. The situation is fluid,” says Haapasaari.

All these changes and cuts have led to labour conflicts which from time to time have crippled Finnair’s operations. Now the company’s economy is stronger. It is expected to return to profit in 2012 for the first time since 2008, and the company’s Asia operations are growing rapidly. The worst seems to be over, in contrast to the situation at SAS.

“We have managed relatively well. There have been changes, but we can live with them,” says Haapasaari.

One example is that the eight companies doing ground services at Helsinki Airport have agreed that whoever wins a procurement will take on the workers of whoever lost, on the same terms as they had before. 

“This benefits the companies, because without the deal they would have had to train new staff to do the job.”

Finnair tail


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