When the Finnish nuclear power company TVO speaks about the construction site of its third nuclear power plant OL3, it sounds as if the company is either a cynical liar or totally ignorant of the reality on the ground
On Thursday 7 June the company released a statement insisting on its strict respect for the legislation, collective agreements and the organizing rights of the employees. It also pledged its assurance that all of its subcontractors, and in turn, all their subcontractors, would follow the same principles. If enforced in practice the entire network of the about 2,400 subcontracting companies at the construction site should be compliant with the legislation, collective agreements of a generally binding character and trade union organizing rights.
However, this is far from the case, concerned trade unions claim. On the very same day, June 7, six trade unions held a press conference where they declared their decision to begin industrial action against TVO in a bid to force it to actively defend the legislation, collective agreements and organizing rights. According to the unions, TVO has not tried to enforce the principles it claims to follow seriously. It has left room for "innumerable" cases where the minimum standards have been broken, often very awkwardly. Talks in recent months with TVO have not led to any real improvement in working conditions at the construction site.
"Employers are not paying employees what they are supposed to be paying them according to the Finnish collective agreements and are not even familiar with the agreements", the unions accuse. Wages have not always been even half of the minimum wage as set out in the collective agreements and applicable in this huge project.
"Employers are in serious breach of the rules governing working hours and have sought to interfere with union organizing rights. Even threats of violence have been used", the unions say, adding to its list of grievances and accusations. Dozens of Polish electricians who had joined the Finnish Electrical Workers' Union, have since been sent home by their Polish employer.
The action against TVO may begin within a matter of weeks or months, Antti Rinne, the President of the salaried employees union Pro said. But it is still too early to outline the forms of possible industrial action, added Riku Aalto, the President of the Metalworkers' Union. "TVO knows what we mean by possible industrial action", he went on.
Currently, about 4,000 people work at the OL3 construction site. Since the beginning of the work some 25,000 people have worked at the site. Most have been foreigners employed by foreign companies. The organizing rate - or union membership - is low. And under these circumstances organizing industrial action would inevitably be more difficult than it would be normally.
In addition to Pro and the Metalworkers' Union, four other unions are involved in the dispute. They are the Electrical Workers' Union, the Construction Workers' Union, the Finnish Engineers' Association and the Union of Professional Engineers.
A consortium formed by the French company Areva and the German company Siemens deliver the unit on a fixed-price turnkey agreement. The project is well over schedule. Originally it was planned to produce electricity from 2009. According to the latest estimate, electricity production will not begin before 2014. The planned cost of EUR 3 billion has probably now risen to over EUR 5 billion.