Most organisations with a chairperson who has been accused by a staff member of bullying would probably try their upmost to keep a low profile while an investigation into the matter was ongoing. Not Transport Workers’ Union AKT, though, those far-sighted mavericks! But let’s be fair – if anyone knows how to act when the unfair treatment of an employee comes to light, they do.
On Friday, AKT’s board voted 11-9 to sack the staff member in question, head of communications Hilkka Ahde. Unsurprisingly, the decision has caused a mixture of shock, anger and ridicule around the country, reflected in numerous editorials on the subject on Sunday and Monday. For instance, Kuopio’s Savon Sanomat described the decision as “unbelievable” while Iltalehti provocatively, and exaggeratedly, suggested that, “AKT’s style brings to mind the mafia or a motorcycle gang.” More sensibly, the paper highlighted the fact that there’s only one woman on AKT’s 20-member board.
The union’s attempt at justifying its position in a press release sent out on Sunday made the AKT look even more pathetic, as it essentially came down to this: Ahde has given us a bad name, and that’s not what our head of communications is supposed to do. Comically, the press release also stated that the board felt that action had to be taken to ensure that AKT’s chairman, Timo Räty, could get on with his job in peace. Supposedly the best way to do that is by firing an employee who’s made an accusation against the very same chairman, thereby pushing him even further into the spotlight!
Most editorial pieces on this news story touched on the hypocrisy of a union treating its own employee so disrespectfully, probably illegally. For example, Helsingin Sanomat stated that, “The defender of workers turned into the enemy of workers.” In common with other editorials, the paper also noted that AKT’s behaviour has harmed not only this union’s credibility but also the credibility of all trade unions.
In a similar vein, Ilta-Sanomat asked if, after this incident, the labour movement could credibly take on employers accused of bullying or if AKT would be able to challenge groundless dismissals of its members. As Turun Sanomat put it, AKT’s decision “sends out the message that the organisation doesn’t respect the rights of employees or care about labour-market rules of the game.”
So let me take this opportunity to thank those 11 members of the AKT board. Ruthless employers can sleep soundly tonight, safe in the knowledge that their ability to screw their employees over has been made that bit easier.