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19.02.2024 13:52

Couriers show the importance of organizing

Active couriers in Jyväskylä started a local trade union branch and soon found themselves negotiating with Wolt.

Platform work – work done through digital platforms – has rapidly gained ground. The most well-known platform companies in Finland are Wolt offering courier services and Uber offering ride-hailing services.

Despite these companies becoming more dominant on the market, the position of workers has remained weak. Platform work is often done as independent entrepreneurs instead of being in an employment relationship, which means there is no security provided by a collective agreement and labor legislation. This means that all basic employment rights are missing: working hours, annual holidays, sick leave, minimum wages, work bonuses and so on.

In Finland, thousands of food couriers work through Wolt without mutually agreed terms of employment. At the beginning of 2023, food couriers in Jyväskylä became active when Wolt changed their payment model in Finland. The couriers witnessed a significant drop in their income, says Papy Nkunda, chairman of the trade union branch PAM Couriers Finland.

– We founded a group and had discussions with Wolt and politicians and contacted the media, but our matter did not progress. Then we heard about PAM and met up with PAM’s representatives. After that things started to happen, and we joined PAM. Nkunda is happy that couriers were accepted as members of the trade union, even if it was a new matter for the union as well. PAM Couriers Finland was approved as a trade union branch in April last year.

The movement that started on a grassroot level in Jyväskylä had grown into a nationwide trade union branch.

Important to listen to couriers

Jonas Krogell is a deputy member of the board of PAM Couriers Finland and works as a courier in Kaarina and Skanssi in the Turku region. He heard about PAM through couriers’ WhatsApp group where Nkunda informed about it. Couriers in Turku became active too.

– There was a strike in Turku, and many couriers were not working for three days. There were many who thought that the strike should continue, because Wolt only reacted by saying that there were many more potential couriers just waiting to be recruited. In the end, a discussion session was held, but the payment model remained the same.

PAM’s organizing coordinator Mikko Siljander works closely with the couriers and emphasizes the importance of active couriers in organizing in the workplace.

– This shows that a small spark can become wildfire. We can change the world with small steps. This also gives faith in one’s own work.

Krogell says he has often talked about PAM membership with other couriers, for example while waiting for orders.

– Meeting and talking between us couriers is very important.

Organizing led to negotiations

PAM’s Collective Bargaining Director Jaana Ylitalo. Photo: Eeva Anundi.

In December 2023, PAM started negotiations with Wolt about the employment conditions of couriers. According to PAM’s Collective Bargaining Director Jaana Ylitalo organizing in workplaces opened the door for negotiations.

– We have had discussions with platform economy companies over the past few years, but they never resulted in anything. However, couriers becoming active changed the whole situation. Without their organizing, I don’t think we would have started the negotiations. It really meant a lot.

PAM’s goal is to negotiate employment conditions for both self-employed couriers and those in an employment relationship. The opportunity to collectively agree on the working conditions of self-employed opened up with the European Commission’s new guidelines for platform work. Previously, a similar agreement would have been considered a cartel.

Collective agreements for self-employed workers are rare, even by international standards.

 – Agreements are very rare, and PAM is among the first trade unions in the world agreeing on the collective working conditions for the self-employed, Ylitalo points out.

The negotiations are still in their early stages, but according to Ylitalo, the spirit has been good and constructive.

Couriers negotiating

Nkunda and Krogell are sitting at the negotiation table representing the trade union branch. The negotiations have been a new experience for both.

– PAM’s professionals are on our side, and we have a very active negotiation group. We are constantly learning new things, says Nkunda.

Couriers bring valuable information to the negotiation table about their work.

– It’s great that we can take part in the negotiations and tell about our everyday work, Krogell says.

PAM’s goal in the negotiations is to improve the livelihood of couriers and to agree on minimum conditions and security so that everyone can earn a decent living through their work. Ylitalo sees that PAM has an obligation to improve the position of self-employed members in the future more widely than just for Wolt.

– Regardless of the form of their work, couriers have organized and joined our trade union – this has been possible for a long time, even according to our rules.  According to PAM’s recently adopted Priority Action Programme, the union promotes collective bargaining extensively. We should remember that couriers are in the most vulnerable position as they also have the responsibility of an entrepreneur.

”We have faith in the future”

PAM’s organizing coordinator Siljander feels that couriers bring new ideas that help PAM to develop as a trade union.

– We do things together with the couriers, not on behalf of them. We are a movement for our members.

Nkunda is optimistic about the future. There is still work to be done with spreading awareness and negotiating, but the start has been promising. Nkunda sees the unity of the couriers as the most important factor. It spreads good energy to as many people as possible.

– The goal is to see happy couriers doing their work with decent conditions so that we can provide for our families. We have faith in the future and that it will bring us good things.

Text and photo: Pauli Unkuri