Labor Union Membership in Finland in 2021

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In this blog post, we discuss labor union membership in Finland. In a previous post, we explained the role trade unions have historically had in the Finnish labor market. Today, we discuss unionization rates in Finland and union member demographics. 

This blog is based on a recent report by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (TEM) called “Organization of Wage and Salary Earners in 2021”.

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Labor union membership in Finland in 2021

As we discussed elsewhere, in Finland employee-side labor unions are organized under three large confederations. These are SAK, AKAVA, and STTK. These three organizations had 1 888 000 members altogether in 2021. 

This is how those ca. 1.9 million labor union members are distributed between the three confederations. 

No. of labor unions17361265
Members 828 000617 000443 0001 888 000
Portion of organized labor43.9 %32.7 %23.4 %
source: TEM: Organization of Wage and Salary Earners in 2021, chart 3, p. 18

SAK is the largest of the confederations. Its membership numbers have, however, declined in recent years. In 2017, SAK had 927 000 members. The membership numbers of the other two confederations have declined as well. In 2017, AKAVA had 610 000 members, and STTK had 506 000 members. 

The largest unions in SAK are PAM (Service Union United PAM) and Teollisuusliitto (Industrial Union). Both have 199 000 members. AKAVA’s largest union is OAJ (Trade Union of Education OAJ) with 118 000 members. STTK’s largest union is TEHY (the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals in Finland) with 152 000 members.  

In 2021, 78.5 % of those currently working or looking for work were members of labor unions. Over the years, this rate has declined. For example, in 1994 the corresponding figure was 96.5 %.

This figure is somewhat misleading, however. This is because labor union members include pensioners and students, who are not part of the workforce. If we take membership figures that only include those currently employed or looking for work, the unionization rate drops to 54.7 %. In 1994, the equivalent figure was 78.5 %. 

Similarly, calculated unionization rate for women was 60.9 % and 52.3 % for men in 2021.

Unionization by sector 

This study gives unionization rates for the industry sector as well as for the private and public services sectors. TEM calculated the unionization rate by comparing the number of unionized employees in the sector to the number of employees who could be labor union members if they wanted to.

In 2021, the unionization rate of the industrial sector was 63.4 %. For the private services sector, it was 41.6 % and for the public services sector, it was 76.7 %. 

Traditionally, the industrial and public services sectors have had a high unionization rate. For example, in 2004, the unionization rate of the industrial sector was 86 %. In the public services sector, it was 87.6 %.

In the private services sector, the unionization rate has always been notably lower. It was around 50 % between 2004 and 2013. Then, by 2017, it had dropped to 47.9 %. In 2021, it was as low as 41.6 %.

If we look at unionization rates by different public sector employers, we see marked differences in the rates. In 2021, 53.5 % of eligible government employees were union members. Of eligible municipal employees, 84.1 % were members. The unionization rate of eligible parish employees was 69.9 % in 2021. 

Labor union membership in Finland according to other studies

In the TEM report, they compare their unionization rates to those calculated with other data. For example, the Labor force survey of Statistics Finland (the one we talked about in our previous blog) also used to ask respondents about their union membership. After the mid-2010s, unionization rates in that survey were produced based on taxation data rather than survey questions. Union membership fees are fully tax deductible. Thus taxation data can be used to assess unionization rates. 

According to the Labor force survey, the unionization rate of salary and wage earners was 57.8 % in 2021. This corresponds fairly well with the TEM calculations. The unionization rate of those unemployed, in turn, was 25.3 %. 

The Labor force survey also includes information about unionization rates by age groups. We find that older people have higher unionization rates than younger people. For example, the unionization rate of those between 60 and 64 was 64.1 % in 2001. For those under 29, it was only 27.7 %.

From that survey, we also know that the unionization rate of part-time workers was 37.9 % in 2021. There are, however, large differences in this group based on age. Older part-time workers have a much higher unionization rate than younger workers. The unionization rate of part-time workers under 29 was 16.1 % in 2021. For those 30 and over, it was 50.7. % or more. The unionization rate of part-time workers was highest among 60 to 64-year-olds. Their unionization rate in 2021 was 60.9 %.

Fixed-term workers also had a low unionization rate in 2021. It was 37.8 %. Again, differences between age groups were notable although not as marked as with part-time workers. The unionization rate of fixed-term workers under 29 was 22.6 % in 2021. It was highest for those in their 40s. Their unionization rate was 54.8 % in 2021. 

Unemployment fund membership

In most cases, being a member of a labor union also means being a member of an unemployment fund. However, one doesn’t have to be a member of a labor union to be a member of the union’s unemployment fund. We explained this in another blog. Hence, unemployment fund membership numbers are higher than labor union membership numbers. 

In 2021, there were altogether 18 unemployment funds that fall under the fields covered by the trade union confederations. 5 of them fall under the fields AKAVA represents, 5 fall under STTK, and 8 under SAK. In addition, there are unemployment funds that do not fall under any of these confederations. There is also YTK –  the general unemployment fund- not associated with any particular trade union. 

In 2021, 80 % of the workforce (employees and unemployed job seekers) were members of these different types of unemployment funds. 

The difference between the unemployment fund membership rate (80 %) and the labor union membership rate (54.7 %) is around 25 percentage points. About 20 % of this gap can be attributed to YTK membership. 

YTK was established at the end of the 1990s. It has seen significant growth in membership numbers in recent years. In 2013, YTK had around 335 000 members. By 2021, it had around 500 000 members. 

YTK is primarily an unemployment fund. It also provides an additional service called “work life services” to those who purchase it separately. These services include, for example, different types of insurance policies and legal advice concerning employment relationships. 

YTK does not, however, participate in negotiations around collective agreements ot otherwise represent its members in different types of labor market negotiations. Therefore, while it provides financial security to its members and individual legal advice to those purchasing a separate service package, it’s not a power broker in the Finnish labor market. 

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