Trade union membership and the role of unions in the Finnish working life considered important by international members of Akava affiliates

There is an ongoing project in Akava aiming at improving and developing the trade union services for the international members of Akava affiliates.


– Unions play a big role in the Finnish working life. We want to do our part in helping the growing number of international talents build their lives and careers in Finland, just as we do for our Finnish members, explains specialist Jutta Linna leading the project. 

The overall number of international members in Akava affiliates is still relatively low. However, the Finnish working life is diversifying fast. There is no doubt that Finland needs more labour-based immigration, and it is a political aim to attract an increased number of skilled workers to Finland.  

During this spring, the project has focused on understanding the expectations, needs, and requirements of international talents. Jutta has met with several other service providers, but the focus has been on listening to the current international members of Akava affiliates. For this purpose, Akava carried out interview research in co-operation with Akava Works and the affiliate unions. The research was conducted by Inspirans/Taloustutkimus Oy. 

– We were glad to hear that most of the participants state that they live in Finland permanently. Main reason for staying was family ties, but secondary reasons included a healthy work-life balance and a humane work culture. Finnish working life was mostly seen in a very positive light by the international talents participating in this study, Jutta comments.

Additionally, the members thought that the strengths of Finnish working life include trust-based leadership, equality, and low hierarchy, as well as Finnish values and mentality.

– The interviewees perceived Finnish trade unions to have more political influence than in many countries. They also recognized the strengths of Finnish working life to be a direct result of the work done by the trade unions, Jutta adds. 

According to the results of the research, union membership is strongly linked to a sense of security and peace of mind. The trade union’s role as a safety net is emphasized when one lives abroad and is not necessarily familiar with the country’s practices, laws, or workers’ rights. One of the development ideas that both current international members and other service providers suggested was that trade unions could offer more help in adopting Finnish labor legislation. The international members also wished for a better outreach strategy for the initial connection with international talents after their arrival to Finland. 

Other development ideas from the research focused strongly on increasing communication and especially English-language content. The language requirements were mentioned as one of the two main weaknesses of the Finnish working life, the other being discrimination and racism. These issues have also been noted by other researchers.  

– In Finnish working life, the language barrier is sometimes built even higher than is necessary. Many recruiters, for example, make assumptions about one’s language skills based on their name. Therefore, our aim cannot be just to help international talents to climb over the (sometimes fictional) language barrier, but we should also help by breaking it down. We can do this by encouraging our whole community to use other languages as well, Jutta points out.  

The international talents participating in the study were eager to network with Finns. Jutta sees networking as a key take-away from the research and the project so far:

– The strength of our affiliates is in the community they bring together. We need to create more places where this sense of community is available to international members, as well as tools to support our whole Akava community to create those. The fact is that in a globalized world, a strong community is a diverse community. 

Further information:

Jutta Linna, Specialist
+358 44 727 4107

Research participants

  • 11 current international members  
  • 9 different affiliate unions represented 
  • All currently employed, but in different stages of their careers 
  • 5 participants were from Europe, 6 from outside of Europe 
  • 4 participants had lived in Finland for more than 10 years, 5 participants for 5 to 10 years, one participant for less than 5 years and one of has not lived in Finland