Finland's transport industry ‘Not a paradise for working women’

Submitted by AWL on 29 January, 2014 - 12:19

Women working in Finland’s transport industry face similar issues to their UK sisters.

The largest party in the Finnish government is the National Coalition (the equivalent of the UK Conservatives). The Green Party is also part of the government, and holds the position of Minister of Transport. It is selling the state-owned transport companies.

All public sector companies are up for sale. This is in line with European Union anti-trust laws, but the right-wing government seems to be going along with it willingly, rather than being reluctantly forced by the EU.

Women's employment rate in Finland is 68.2%, which is higher than the EU average. Casualisation and part-time work is increasing. The service sector is growing, which has meant that women's jobs have not been hit as hard by the recession as men's jobs. Tapio Bergholm, who has written a history of Finnish transport workers, summarises this as: ‘outdoors male occupations are declining; indoors female occupations are increasing’. Over the age of 40, women's employment is higher than men's.

Between 1966 and 1970, a committee set up by the (then left-wing) government researched the position of women with a view to improving it. Some improvements followed, and full-time childcare provision led to an increase in women's employment.

But despite legislation for equal pay in 1962, women' pay is still significantly low than men's. Low pay is a gender issue: there are more women paid less than €1800 per month than men earning less than €2000 per month.

Tapio concludes that: 'Finland is not a paradise for working women'.

Gender segregation in the transport industry

There are strong differences in the proportions of men and women doing different types of work in transport, with the ‘service’ sector of the industry mainly women workers and the industrial sector mainly men. For example, on airline company Finnair, 92% of technical workers are men; 75% of cabin crew are women; on the docks, the majority of technical workers are men; the majority of administrative workers are women: 55% of the membership of salaried-grades transport trade union Pro's membership is women.

Gender segregation is perhaps even more pronounced on Finland’s railways: of 1000 railyard workers, only two are women, and of 1770 train drivers, just 36 are women.

Women are under-represented in supervisory posts. Just 7% of women workers are in these posts, compared with around a quarter of men. One reason why there a fewer women in supervisory posts is that these posts require hours and flexibility that women are less likely to be able to give due to caring responsibilities.

Even disregarding sector and supervisory position, there is still a pay gap of 8% between men and women. Why does unequal pay persist? Because those jobs which more men do are paid significantly more than those jobs which more women do.

One woman transport trade unionist described how, ‘Men workers often oppose women working there, and the public companies are not doing enough to challenge sexism and gender segregation.’

Men receive more training at work than women do. Employers say that they will not hire women because they don't have facilities such as changing rooms for women. There are regular sexist comments at work.

The law requires all companies to have an equality plan, and every workplace must have an employer/employee committee to discuss the company's finances and equality issues. But women who raise equality issues feel that they are treated as 'troublemakers'.

There is a problem of violence against transport workers, including abuse against women workers which is sexist in nature eg. women workers being called 'cunt' or 'whore'. Moreover, many women transport workers feel that they are patronised at work. Finnish women trade unionists argue for a 'zero tolerance' policy towards violence, abuse and patronisation.

There is concern about three areas of men's position: unemployment; underperformance in education; and health, especially lower life expectancy and greater rate of serious accidents. The SAK (equivalent of the UK TUC) is suggesting the government appoint a committee to look at men's position in society, similar to the committee to look at women’s position in the 1960.

However, men's disadvantage in these areas is determined by class much more than by gender: it is working-class men who face unemployment, educational under-achievement and industrial accidents. Men's position in the three areas identified is directly linked with gender segregation that also disadvantages women, so it would be a mistake to deal with them separately as 'men's issues'.

There is also a danger that the proposal for a committee on men's position would feed into a backlash against those advances that women have made: there are anti-feminist groups in Finland (as there are elsewhere). A committee to look at gender in work and society would be better.