Finnish legislation stipulates that municipalities have the responsibility to provide personal assistance for seriously disabled people.
There are between 25,000 - 30,000 personal assistants currently employed in Finland. The trade union density for this labour sector is exceptionally low for Finland, around 20 per cent. JHL, the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors counts about 2,000 personal assistants who are members of the union.
JHL has now launched a project to address the challenges and wishes expressed by personal assistants themselves in surveys.
The core of the project is a virtual advocacy system on the web. The goal here is to improve services and advice for personal assistants and utilise the network of professionals.
The project aims to provide a virtual network to produce a new kind of activism. It will also make it possible for JHL local chapters to become a part of personal assistants' advocacy.
Peer support is the key
The new web site offers a databank which is available to all. When a JHL member is signing in, she or he automatically gains access to the peer support section, too.
Members can thus participate in moderated discussions. The topics are connected with the quality of working life, occupational safety and health, wellbeing at work and networking. The moderators are JHL activists or employees.
Even non-members are welcome to visit and familiarise themselves with the web site. These people will get a temporary password and the union will mail her or him with the necessary forms to join the union. If membership application is not forthcoming within two weeks, a new mail is sent out automatically. After that, only those who have joined JHL will be allowed full access to the web site.
The project has several goals: to organise personal assistants, to develop the support they need and activate them to help themselves through the web site.
JHL also hope to find new activists among personal assistants. With the new network it will be easier to connect personal assistants to the work of JHL local chapters, e.g. with special sections.
With time the networked people will become more connected to the union and this will open up new possibilities e.g. to elect shop stewards.
The web pages
www.henkilokohtaisetavustajat.fi are already open. The project will last until the end of the year 2018.