Being a member of a trade union guarantees you better unemployment benefits. This was the main reason Kaveri joined the trade union. “For many years I was happy to just remain a silent member of the union. Then I learned about all the other things the union does, like negotiating the collective agreement. Now I am a union activist and shop steward,” Kaveri says.
Kaveri Saminathan was born in Singapore. Today, she is a union activist in Vantaa, Finland.
In Singapore, Kaveri taught secondary school math and computer skills. Her pupils were 13-17-year-olds, and not very interested in the subject matters. Kaveri switched to teach younger kids, because she wanted to catch them early, before they became bored teenagers.
”I finished my diploma in the Montessori method in Singapore in 1999, but did not get to use the method there. I did not know then how useful the diploma would turn out to be in Finland, nor that I would one day be moving here,” she says.
”I told my husband I didn’t want to become an immigrant who just lives off welfare. Luckily, there are Montessori daycares everyplace!”
Kaveri discovered that there was an English-language Montessori kindergarten in Helsinki, Finland. Later, she went on to work in a Finnish Montessori kindergarten in Vantaa, Finland. She also studied Finnish and business information technology, but didn’t want to sit in front of a desk for 8 hours a day.
Know Your Rights!
It’s been 18 years now that Kaveri has lived in Finland with her Finnish husband. It was at the English-language private kindergarten where she joined JHL in 2003. The first time Kaveri heard about the importance of union membership was from a Finnish co-worker.
”Oh, you are not a union member, you really should join, it guarantees you better unemployment benefits,” the colleague said. This was the main reason Kaveri joined the trade union.
”Though my Finnish was bad then, I attended a couple of courses. Good things about belonging to the union are immigrant rights and the collective agreement. My first employer did not follow the rules of the collective agreement (tes), which is an agreement the union has negotiated with employers and that covers all employees. I joined a few courses. I learned about all the rights I had as an employee that I was not aware of,” Kaveri says.
Originally, the plan was for she and her husband to spend three years in Finland and then try living in Singapore.
“Working life is less stressful here and there is more family time,” Kaveri says.
Kaveri told herself to learn Finnish. She gave herself five years.
”Learning Finnish has really made things easier. I got a job in a Finnish-language daycare center after having lived here for 2,5 years. My advice is that even though you can get by with English, it is good to learn Finnish for the sake of social intercourse and in order to better take care of your matters,” she says.
Kaveri also worked at a Vantaa City daycare from 2011-12. Then she took a 3.5-year break in 2013-16 and had two more children. Her three children are now 10, 7 and 5. She is currently still working at a Vantaa City daycare.
The Job Description Details Your Duties at Work
Kaveri points out that coming from Asia, the assumption was that you work all the time, but in Finland, every minute you spend at work is calculated and the employer must reimburse you for your time. And you can refuse to do things that are not in your job description. Many immigrants do not know this.
”For years, I was happy to just remain a silent member of the union. Then, two years ago, I became a union activist. I learned about all the other things the union does, like negotiating the collective agreement,” Kaveri says.
On one of the courses, she found out that a certain percentage of employees at a given profession needed to belong to the union, because otherwise, the union did not have the right to negotiate the collective agreement for them.
”So now I am a shop steward, a union representative in the Vantaa area. Here, after old employees retire from work and the union, the young employees do not follow them into the union to take the reins. Now, as a union activist, I can see the big picture, all those years before I could not,” she says.
Union Courses Targeted at Immigrants
JHL holds courses especially for immigrants. Kaveri attended the first KaMut course in September 2018 after she received an email invitation from the organizer.
”I wanted to volunteer to thank the union for all they had done for me. The last two years I have been very active,” Kaveri says.
In addition to the usual benefits from belonging to a union like better salary, legal help and such, the union also offers other benefits to members. You can rent a cottage for your summer holiday for a smaller fee etc.
”Recently, I talked to a colleague at work, who had no idea about unions. Earlier, my selling pitch were unemployment benefits. Now, I see the big picture. I have been living in Finland for a long time. I want to give back something and help people.”
Text: Susanna Bell