The Finnish Supreme Court confirmed in its ruling 2017:29 on 23 May 2017 that senior white collar employees who are not members of the relevant trade union are entitled to elect a representative for themselves even though a shop steward has been elected in the company in accordance with the applicable collective agreement.
Previously the election of a shop steward for a company has overridden the possibility to elect another employee representative for the same employee group. The shop steward elected in accordance with the applicable collective agreement was obliged to represent all employees who were covered by the collective agreement, whether the employees were members of the relevant trade union, another trade union or even non-unionized.
The Supreme Court emphasized that it follows from the freedom of association that the use of this right to become a member of a specific trade union or not to become a member of the trade union cannot have negative consequences for the employees. Since the employees who were not members of the relevant trade union were not able to participate in the election of the shop steward, they could have been put in a worse position than the members of the relevant trade union if they would not be entitled to elect a representative to represent themselves in the workplace. The Supreme Court noted that the difference would be emphasized in situations where the employees who could elect a representative for themselves would constitute a separate employment group and thus their interests could be in conflict with the interests of the members of the trade union.
In the case at hand the shop steward was elected by the members of the trade union consisting of regular white collar employees while the senior white collar employees were organized in their own trade union. On the basis of the above the Supreme Court ruled that the senior white collar employees had the right to elect their own representative.
The ruling may represent a fundamental shift toward recognition of the rights of non-unionized employees, but no immediate impact is expected in companies where all three major employee groups (blue collar employees, white collar employees and senior white collar employees) are covered by different collective agreements. However, if several employee groups are covered by the same collective agreement, the companies should be prepared that underrepresented employee group, often senior white collar employees, may claim the right to elect a representative for themselves and have their representative included in co-operation between the employees’ representatives and the company.