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JUHANI ARTTO
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Sick, old and "difficult" employees first to be given notice

Helsinki (25.04.2010 - Juhani Artto) Tens of thousands of employees have
lost their jobs since the beginning of the recession in autumn 2008. In the
technology industry alone, the number of employees fell by 10 per cent in 2009 i.e. by 24,000 persons.

And the technology industry is a case in point. The chances of keeping one's job, for certain kind of people, have been far from good. This is the outcome of the mini study recently published by Ahjo, the magazine of the Metalworkers' union.

The study, made by Markku Tasala, a journalist, is based on interviews with eight shop stewards working in the technology industry. And it concerns work places where, during the recession, altogether 880 employees have been given notice after the mandatory company-level consultation.

The shop stewards were not involved in the creation of the lists of the employees who were to be given notice but in a few cases they succeeded in removing certain names from the lists. And how did these eight shop stewards come to uncover the employers' criteria for selecting people for redundancy?

Because of a fall off in demand a reduction in personnel has been, at least to a certain extent, justified in all eight companies, the shop stewards admit. But the problem has clearly served as an excuse to facilitate certain discriminatory procedures in how the dismissal lists were drawn up.

All eight shop stewards can attest to employers drawing up their dismissal lists from employees with long illnesses and sick leave records. And all but one of the eight shop stewards can confirm that the employers had selected employees who are regarded as being "difficult" by nature. The third group of employees who have been clearly discriminated against are those who may be described as older employees. Six of the eight shop stewards have noticed age-based discrimination (being too old) in their companies.

In Finland, these findings will be far from surprising to anybody who has bothered to follow recent trends in working life. Similar observations and equally damning information have been forthcoming from several other industries. Thus, the findings confirm a common comprehension among union activists.

In two companies, at least, there were a striking number of union
activists among those dismissed. And it seems that this has become a nationwide problem, which is why the Metalworkers' union is now studying this trend more closely.

Four of the eight shop stewards recognised two factors that helped employees to keep their jobs. These were being multi-skilled and having heavy family responsibilities. However, being multi-skilled or being a single mother did not save one from being sacked once the employer had decided the employee was "a difficult person" by nature.

Quantitatively speaking and in real terms, it must be said that the age factor (being an older employee) weighed more than all the other factors. Half of the 880, who were given notice, belonged to the age group 50+. And proportionally these people represented the highest number of redundancies relative to those employed. And whilst employer leaders are actively lobbying to raise the retirement age, at the same time, employer decisions at company-level go to in the opposite direction. Naturally, faced with such evidence, shop stewards and union members accuse employers of double standards.