News - 28.08.2014 klo 12.36

Labour Court: The language skills supplement for shop assistants must be paid

The long struggle for a language skills supplement for sales assistants is beginning to bear fruit. Seppälä, one of the major clothing shops, is to start paying the supplement, as stipulated in the collective agreement.

The decision is based on a ruling by the Labour Court. The case was raised by the Service Union United PAM on behalf of the sales assistants at Seppälä Lappeenranta stores.

In accordance with the collective agreement for the commercial sector shop assistants are entitled to a five per cent pay supplement when they use more than one language "almost daily" in the course of their normal daily customer service. This wording has been subject to dispute since it was agreed in 1975.

PAM asked the Seppälä shop assistants to write down when they need to use other languages in customer service. Negotiations with the employer failed to yield results and PAM took the case to the court.

Following the Labour Court decision Seppälä is now carrying out language tests based on a normal customer service situation. Seppälä will from now on pay supplement for English in Helsinki city stores, for Swedish in the mostly Swedish speaking region of Finland in Österbotten and for both Russian and English in South Eastern Finland.

Not all the shops or chains pay the supplement. "As if the employers believe that they can themselves decide whether to pay the supplement or not", says Chief Negotiator Juha Ojala from PAM.

To pay salary according to work done and in line with the collective agreement is, however, a basic obligation for an employer. It is possible to measure the need for language skills and to what extent these languages are being used, Ojala says.

According to the PAM magazine chains like H&M, Stadium, Gina Tricot and Bestseller Retail - which includes Vero Moda, Jack&Jones, Only and Name it - do not pay supplements or pay it only in few cities where there is a major Swedish speaking minority.

Seppälä is part of the Stockmann Group and has some 140 shops in Finland. It also has shops in four other countries. Stockmann pays supplement in their department stores for skills in Swedish, English, Russian, German, Chinese, French and sign language.

Heikki Jokinen