Work for immigrant equality took a leap forward – Here’s how you can get involved in the operations

Original article written in Finnish by Samuli Launonen Photos: Linda Savonen, JHL archive

Immigrant-origin JHL members founded their own network in Oulu. JHL’s immigrant networks now cover all of Finland – and the entire world.

Everyone has equally good opportunities in the Finnish working life. Not a single employer will leave an employee uninvited to a job interview because of the employee’s name. A teacher from Tanzania can find a teaching job, a lawyer from Iraq can be employed as a lawyer.

We still have a long way to go for Finland to be that equal. That’s why Trade Union JHL has immigrant networks around Finland. Their goal is to promote the equality of those with different backgrounds and help them attach themselves to working life.

The seventh, most recent network is the Oulu area immigrant network OuVer. It started its operations in January.

Members and JHL’s immigrant activities specialists were present in the starting meeting of the Oulu area immigrant network.

The immigrant networks now cover the entire country. Their members hail from all over the world, from South America to different parts of Africa, Europe and Asia.

There are approximately 200 union members with some other native language than Finnish in Northern Ostrobothnia (i.e. Oulu area). Six members participated in OuVer’s starting meeting. That’s a good start, but next we need to reach plenty more members, thinks Timea Heiska, Oulu immigrant network’s chair.

– Those with an immigrant background have very little information on what trade union actually means in Finland, and what the union can offer them.

Changing the situation requires not only activating the union’s current immigrant-origin members but also recruiting new members.

Timea Heiska (on the left) and David Delahunty took up the positions of JHL’s Oulu area immigrant network chairs.

Information, information, information

The vision of the immigrant networks is that all those who hail from abroad would be aware of their rights in working life, no matter what their language or background is. It’s important that people representing different backgrounds join JHL’s courses, branch activities and decision making, and also that they take up positions of responsibility in workplaces. The more of them there are, the better are the chances of making an impact to equality in the Finnish working life.

Many people with a foreigner’s background have a university degree. Society should make use of that.

The operations of the immigrant networks include spreading union awareness in Finnish workplaces and schools with many people of foreign origin. Informal shared activities also play an important role – they include grilling sausages and making trips to museums.

According to Timea Heiska, the OuVer actives have been planning the first steps of operations and pondering on how they could effectively spread information about the union and working life. They will have their next meeting at the beginning of May.

“We don’t bite”

The networks welcome all JHL members who hail from abroad and are looking for support for working life and a community spirit. Timea Heiska didn’t hesitate to become the chair of OuVer. She’s learned the hard way how difficult it is for someone who isn’t a native-born Finn to find their place in the Finnish working life.

– I couldn’t find employment with my own degree. Instead, I had to study a degree within a new sector. It took many years of my life.

Heiska graduated as a Master of Geography, i.e. city planning researcher, in her birth country Slovakia. She moved to Finland in 2011. She applied for numerous jobs that matched her education, but she practically never even got invited to a job interview.

Welcome to the network! Let’s see together how and where we can succeed.

One of the goals of the networks is also to broaden employers’ horizons.

– Those with a foreigner’s background don’t bite. We’re highly motivated to work, and we have excellent work moral. Many people have a university degree. Low-pay sectors aren’t the only ones that could make use of these things, she appeals.

Heiska will soon graduate as an occupational therapist. Aside from studying, she works occasional jobs as an interpreter. OuVer held its starting meeting in Finnish, but Heiska encourages people to join regardless of language. The network currently has members who speak English, Russian, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Slovak and Czech.

– Welcome to the network! Let’s see together how and where we can succeed, Heiska says.

The next meeting of the Oulu area immigrant network will be held on Friday 3 May at 5 pm in JHL’s Oulu area regional office at Rautionkatu 18 B.

Read more: JHL’s third immigrant network has been founded: Sunitha Akurathi and Michaël Fandi hope that the network will give them encounters, peer support and information about working life

JHL’s immigrant network extended to Eastern Finland – Chair Wendy Savolainen: It makes me happy and proud to see the trade union open itself to immigrants

JHL’s immigrants now have a network in Lapland: “You don’t have to take care of everything by yourself”

How JHL’s immigrant networks operate

  • JHL has seven immigrant networks around Finland: Southern Finland’s KaMuT, Inner Finland’s Jalla-Jalla, Southwest Finland’s MeVe, Southeast Finland’s KaMat, Ostrobothnia’s Po-Ver, Oulu area’s OuVer as well as the network in Eastern Finland.
  • The networks are low-threshold channels for getting involved in trade union activities.
  • They welcome all of JHL’s foreign-origin members, from those born in Finland to those who have recently moved into the country.
  • The operations include fuelling union activism and arranging shared refreshment activities.
  • For more information about the immigrant networks and their contact information, visit JHL’s website