Academic Self-Defence Courses: Looking Back and Planning Ahead
For the past two years, The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers (FUURT) has organized courses for the international community in Finnish universities. The goal has been to provide fast and easy information of the rights at the workplace.
The term ‘Academic Self Defense’ refers to informing employees of their legal rights at the work place. Also knowledge about how the Finnish labor system works was provided at these sessions. It is important for the international community to be aware of how collective bargaining affects for instance their salaries. Basic understanding of the collective agreement and basic knowledge of the most important labor legislation constitute a key for every employee for knowing their rights. This was also a chance for the participants to ask questions regarding their employment face to face with the instructor.
These sessions have been successful. The Union has managed to distribute information. It has reached out to the international community and established a dialogue with the international researchers. The Union has also learned a lot more about their everyday troubles. Most of the information gained during the courses has been compiled into a new English-language FAQ on the Union website, which works as a vault of information on academic labor issues, as well as employment- and unemployment-related questions.
The Self Defense courses have also presented the Union with challenges. Advertising and spreading the word of the sessions has been a bit problematic.
Entangled university structure, less than adequate internet services and the overall dispersal of the international community — which are always different in each university — make it difficult to reach all those who would benefit from the info sessions. Although most sessions drew in lots of people, there were a few events where the turnout was smaller, mainly because the word about the session had perhaps not reached the potential audience. What next?
Regrettably there are some issues with which the Union cannot be of much help to the international researchers. The immigration practices and bureaucracy are not exactly trade union matters (see page 38). But in other matters, such as the collective agreement, work contract issues and unemployment matters, the Union has helped the international researchers living in Finland. Of course, there are matters in which the Union could probably speak up more loudly. One such issue is the discrimination of overseas academics. Although “international” has become a magic word and a measure of success in Finnish universities, the actual implementation of practices related to international issues leaves much to be desired. For instance, more transparent hiring practices, demanded by the international community, would benefit everyone in our academic world.
Academic Self-Defense Courses have been delivered in the form of general info sessions, aiming to provide concise info on basic issues. If there is demand for more specific sessions, the Union welcomes all proposals. For example, it could be possible to organize a seminar or a panel on the question of discrimination.
This also means that the international members of academic community need to take up active role in sharing their needs and concerns with the representatives of local associations. Therefore, we warmly encourage the international community to get in touch with the representatives of local associations in order to provide some insights into the ways in which the union could better serve you. Let us know what kind of topics you would like the Union to tackle in the future sessions. As always, the Union will try to act as a forum where people can have their voice heard.
Jussi Jalonen and Marta Choroszewicz