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JUHANI ARTTO
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Why does the service sector union PAM sponsor TV's Big Brother?

Helsinki (19.10.2010 - Juhani Artto) Many union activists raised their eyebrows when the Service Union United PAM recently announced its decision to sponsor the controversial reality TV show Big Brother. Doubts and criticism concerning the move did not come as a surprise to the leaders of the union. But the decision has also been greeted with much applause.

So, why has PAM made this somewhat surprising decision?

According to Timo Piiroinen, the communication director of the union, BB is among the favourite programmes of PAM's rank and file members. Therefore, the union expects to reach, through its advertising on the programme, a considerable number of people working in the service industries where PAM operates.

The first weeks of this season’s show indicate that PAM has calculated correctly. About 500 (mostly young) people have joined the union via the special web site created for the union's BB-campaign.

PAM has also been able to derive benefits from the programme in another way. When the participants are voted out of "the house" one-by-one, each individual will meet PAM's BB-coach who is on hand to assist them in returning to daily life, especially working life. Thus, PAM's expert not only offers valuable advice to participants, but this exercise also clearly demonstrates how union solidarity works in practise.

The BB-coach, for example, checks that the participant who has just been voted off the show, receives the proper pay and has proper working hours at his or her place of work. The BB-coach also checks that the employee has a written employment contract with the employer.

On Tuesday came more good news concerning PAM's BB-project, when it was announced that PAM's ad has been voted the best advertisement in September by the main commercial TV channels.

PAM has over 200 000 rank and file members. Most work in retail outlets, hotels, restaurants, security companies and in the cleaning and property services. The average age of membership is about 40 years. The organizing rate is from 65 to 70 per cent, Piiroinen says.