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Trade Union News from Finland

JHL serves its Swedish speaking rank and file members in Swedish

JHL (11.10.2012 - Juhani Artto) According to the latest statistics, 3.2 per cent of JHL's rank and file members belong to the Swedish speaking minority. Finnish speakers constitute 94.8 per cent and "the others" 2.0 per cent.

JHL's magazine Motiivi outlined in its latest issue how the union serves its Swedish speaking rank and file members in their mother tongue. One may well generalize that the service is at least satisfactory or even good which is not very common in Finland in associations where the language minorities are small.

What does this mean in practice at the JHL? All of the most important matters and documents, such as collective agreements, are published also in Swedish also, says Kauko Ala-Nikula, the head of the communication and social department. And a major part of the union's press releases and letters to the local chapters are translated into Swedish. Motiivi's Swedish language appendix Motiv and JHL's web site offer also unique Swedish language material.

At the head office in Helsinki some twenty employees also offer services in Swedish regardless of their own mother tongue. Four regional offices have Swedish-speaking personnel. Language skills are taken into consideration especially when recruiting new employees in Southern Finland, the wider Turku region and Ostrobothnia where most Swedish speakers live.

Within the union there is a task force that prepares proposals for courses in Swedish. The task force has also often a role in safeguarding otherwise the interests of the Swedish speaking rank and file members.

Finland has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish. The number of inhabitants whose mother tongue is Swedish has been slowly diminishing but is still over five per cent. Finland is widely known as a country where the rights of a relatively small language minority are fully respected. In other countries where language and/or ethnic minorities fight for their equal rights it is quite common that activists refer to Finland as a positive example of how minority rights can be safeguarded.

For a large trade union, such as JHL, it is clear that it MUST serve its Swedish speaking minority in their mother tongue. It is not only a question of minority's rights but also an example of rational behaviour being exercised by policy makers. Serving rank and file members of the most significant minority in their mother tongue helps to recruit new members from the minority community and to maintain the motivation necessary to continue union membership.