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Trade Union News from Finland
Violence is often present in service jobs

Helsinki (22.02.2013 - Heikki Jokinen) The threat of violence is often present for those working in small shops and kiosks. In 2012 a total of 312 robberies were reported to the police, and the year before 332.

Shoplifting is not classed as a robbery, though such cases may also involve the threat of violence. In 2012 a total of 47,360 shoplifting cases were reported to the police, several thousand less than the year before.

Typical for robberies of small shops and kiosks is that these incidents are not planned and the take is often very meagre, a small amount of cash, beer or cigarettes. The robbers usually wield a knife or hammer, but seldom brandish firearms. By contrast robberies of jewellery and other luxury item shops are invariably well planned and executed with firearms.

The Service Union United PAM is concerned about the situation. In autumn of last year the union published an action plan called five steps for better security.

First among the measures stressed good preparedness, and here the onus is on the employer to issue clear guidelines on how to act in given situations. Step number two advised about the effective use of technical safety equipment - but which is only useful if employees are trained to use it.

Step three is for employees to make a full report of all threatening situations, even those not leading to violence. This helps to prepare staff for future problems. The union also wishes to draw special attention to the risks facing those who work alone. And ultimately the union is demanding that company security guidelines be constantly updated.

According to the 2012 report of the Centre for Occupational Safety study around 4 per cent of Finns have met with violence at work during the last 12 months. Security guards and police are the main targets but the second most ‘violent profession’ was health care: 18.3 per cent of people working in this field said they had encountered violence at work, followed by social workers at 12.6 per cent. And in the retail sector 4.5 per cent had faced violence at work.

However, other forms of adverse social behaviour, like bullying, sexual harassment and emotional violence come out clearly on top when it comes to the list of employee complaints.

In a European survey (the 5th European Working Conditions Survey by Eurofund) people were asked about experiencing adverse social behaviour at their work places over the last 12 months. In Finland 21 per cent replied yes to this question. Only Austria recorded a higher figure at 22 per cent. The survey is based on interviews with 44,000 workers in 2010 and it compares the situation in 34 European countries. 

The lowest figures were reported in Kosovo, at 3 per cent and Turkey, at 5 per cent. In general, the figures were highest in the Nordic countries and lowest in the Mediterranean area. Some researchers have suggested that the variance or noticeable difference in the data may partly reflect cultural understanding as to what constitutes adverse social behaviour.