‘Find out what’s really going on at workplaces’
Ghanaian PAM members are frustrated: the Union tells them to turn to their shop steward and the shop steward won’t help them. Now PAM promises to improve membership services for foreign workers.
‘I have principles. If the employer is out of line and blames the employees for their own mistakes, I’ll have to go in the end.’
Geraldine Kanervikko-Seppälä, 45, plays up to the photographer trying to capture her twirling and laughing figure into a sharp image. However, when her boss at a cleaning firm gave her two warnings for bogus reasons, because the firm had lost cleaning sites, Kanervikko-Seppälä did not find it a laughing matter. Even though she was not given any other choice but to leave after receiving the warnings, the employment office made her wait three months before she was entitled to benefits.
‘It’s okay. I survived,’ she says, giving a short laugh. She survived with help from her Finnish husband and by letting out her flat.
On a November Sunday, Kanervikko-Seppälä walked her sister to a Helsinki hotel for an event organised in co-operation between PAM, the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors (JHL) and the Trade Union Solidarity Centre of Finland (SASK). The event attracted over 50 Filipinos eager to receive information about the Finnish world of work. Kanervikko-Seppälä wanted her sister, who works as a cleaner, to join PAM.
She explains that helping Filipinos coming to Finland is a cause close to her heart. Her former employer brought about a dozen Filipinos over to the country to work in domestic services and Kanervikko-Seppälä helped the newcomers navigate the Finnish system. Although PAM was not in a position to help her with the waiting period, Kanervikko-Seppälä recommends joining the Union to all her Filipino friends.
A PAM representative’s introduction to union activities is interrupted. Some seats in the auditorium are vacated as some black men with a lot on their minds get to their feet.
‘When I joined PAM, it was made very easy. Then I had a problem at the workplace and went to the PAM office to ask for advice. They told me to go back to my workplace and ask the shop steward for help. Well, the shop steward didn’t do anything,’ booms a man in a white sweater.
‘You must find out what’s really going on at workplaces!’
It’s the following Wednesday night in the auditorium of JHL’s Helsinki central office, where an event for Ghanaian people is in progress.
‘I came to Finland to study and I did some part-time work in a cleaning company. That’s when I joined the Union, but when the work dried up, PAM told me to go to the employment office – knowing that, as a student, I wouldn’t get anything from them!’
Most participants do not want to give their names, but Kwame Afreh has already graduated and got a job with an IT company. He has also resigned from PAM.
‘PAM needs to find out what’s really going on at workplaces. A worker who joins PAM is the customer.’
At the event, which was lively, if steering off the script, PAM was represented by Juhani Salonen, Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Office official. He is both shocked and energised.
‘We need to take a long, hard look in the mirror here. It’s unacceptable that workers don’t get any help from the Union and the shop steward,’ he says.
‘At regional offices, we must start in earnest to build changes to our working methods. Shop stewards need to receive training on the effects of work and residential permits on unemployment security as well as some attitude awareness training when working with immigrants.’
Salonen would like to provide immigrants joining PAM with opportunities to participate and to get immediate help through regularly convened groups, for example.
Geraldine Kanervikko-Seppälä also has a request for PAM.
‘Now that our Government has wound down Finnish language training for foreigners, I’ve heard that PAM organises courses for its members.’
Kanervikko-Seppälä will be contacted. PAM’s Finnish language courses will start again next year.