Shop stewards are among the most important people in the Industrial Union.
The duties of the shop steward include monitoring and ensuring that collective agreements and labour legislation are followed. They also see to it that individual work contracts and other regulations concerning work are observed.
Shop stewards represent the union in the workplace. They negotiate, make agreements and settle disputes when necessary. And they help union members in all matters concerning terms of work. Confidentiality is always a key part of this.
Representing staff is an important task, and for this reason shop stewards are elected by ballot. Every member of the Industrial Union at the workplace has the right to put themselves forward as a candidate and of course to vote.
A deputy shop steward is also elected in the same elections. In bigger workplaces there can also be branch shop stewards. Their task is limited to a specific part or branch of the company.
Shop stewards can use their working time to carry out these duties. In companies with more than 400 employees the shop steward works on a full-time basis. A shop steward can be elected even if the number of employees is small.
The local union branch organises the elections at the workplace. If there is only one candidate, he or she is duly elected. If there is more than one candidate, a ballot will be held.
Defending workers’ rights in the workplace may lead to difficult situations should conflicts arise. For this reason Finnish legislation and collective agreements stipulate that shop stewards are protected against unfair dismissal.
Without shop stewards the union would be unable to closely follow everyday life at workplaces, according to the Industrial Union organisation specialist Ville-Petteri Risberg.
– The shop steward is the most important advocate of employees at the workplace and the key person regarding organising and membership recruitment. As a shop steward one can influence things at the workplace and help colleagues in a concrete way, he said.
In cases where there is not yet a shop steward at the workplace, it is good to gather the people together and discuss who should be elected. It is easier to take care of employees’ interests if there is someone with official status.
Shop stewards are involved in the development projects of the company. They work to see that the views of staff are given serious consideration when the long-term plans of developing the company and other decisions that affect work are being made. The union organises training to help them to do their job as well as possible. Union staff also offer assistance to shop stewards in carrying out their duties.
TEXT HEIKKI JOKINEN