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   Brazil - Finland


With Eila Kämäräinen and Henri Lindholm, of SEL

Challenges for IUF and Brazil affiliates

“We want to change conditions
in the poultry industry”


Henri Lindholm is the general secretary of the Federation of Food Industry Workers of Finland (SEL), and is responsible for the organization’s international affairs, together with Eila Kämäräinen. Eila also represents SEL in the Trade Union Solidarity Center of Finland (SASK). The two Finnish unionists were interviewed by SIREL at the recent São Paulo workshop jointly organized by SASK, SEL and IUF Latin America. 

-Could you tell us a little bit about SEL?

Henri Lindholm (HL) - It has a current membership of 36,500 workers entirely from the industrial sector, as rural laborers are represented by a different trade union. This includes members who are unemployed and those retired, because these remain in the union as members. In recent years we’ve lost some 10 to 15 thousand members as a result exclusively of the tendency to concentrate production in increasingly larger units that employ less workers.


-What’s the unionization rate?

HL - Around 80 percent of workers are unionized.


-What industrial activities are covered by the Federation?

HL - We have five collective bargaining agreements nationwide, which cover activities in the following sectors: meat -including poultry-, bakery, dairy, beverages, and semi-processed foodstuff.


-How has the global crisis affected you?

HL - The crisis has hit Finland, but it hasn’t affected our sector yet, which traditionally feels such effects one or two years after they’ve began to be felt in the rest of the country. Crisis or no crisis, people still have to eat, and in Finland we have a social security and unemployment insurance system that guarantees that the most vulnerable people will have enough food to eat, and so the effects of the crisis are softened at first. The crisis is also evident during such periods because people buy cheaper items than before, they prepare more meals at home and eat out less.

Naturally we will be participating in the IUF’s international campaign and will put all our efforts into it, because the change we seek are not just for Brazil and Finland, they’re for the whole world.


-Why are you interested in learning about working conditions in Brazil’s poultry plants?

HL - When we participated in the last IUF International Congress, in March 2007, we saw a presentation by Brazilian trade unions, which showed the working conditions in poultry plants, and it made an impact on us. We’re also interested because Finland’s imports of Brazilian poultry meat increased significantly in the last few years. There’s even a Finnish brand that sells Brazilian poultry meat under Finnish denomination, because since the meat is seasoned in Finland before it’s sold, it’s not necessary to indicate its origin, so consumers don’t know where the product comes from. In such cases, our Federation is concerned with working conditions both in Finland and in Brazil.

In June of this year we had our first meeting in Porto Alegre, and now we want to consolidate our relationship so we can carry out joint efforts.


-Are working conditions in Finland’s poultry plants similar to those in Brazil’s?

HL - Last year we visited a Perdigão company plant in Rio Grande do Sul and we found that working conditions are in general fairly similar, but upon closer examination we found that the number of work accidents and the absentee rate as a result of work-related illnesses are higher here than in Finland.


Which means that there is a difference in degree. In Finland, production is perhaps more mechanized than in Brazil and so less labor is employed. In terms of size, there’s a huge difference between the two countries, as we only have three large poultry plants in Finland.


-What’s the incidence of Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSIs)?

HL - Compared to Brazil, it’s lower, but compared to other industries in Finland we have a high rate of illnesses or conditions caused by repetitive activities, and many workers are forced to retire early due to them.


-What percentage of women workers is there in the sector?

HL - In the red meat sector it’s at least 50 percent. In some tasks, such as slaughtering and cutting, 90 percent of the workforce is composed of men, while women make up the majority in packaging tasks. In the poultry sector, in contrast, women are the majority in all tasks, including slaughtering. They’re probably 65 percent of all workers.


-What will the project in Brazil focus on?

HL - We’re interested in continuing with information-sharing and exchanges to clear up doubts, since we both face similar problems. In Finland, we’ve had some good experiences in labor safety at the company level and we would like to share them with Brazilian unions, but we’d also like to learn about their successful experiences, to see how we can improve things in our plants.

Historically, unions in Finland have been very slow in realizing that we must concern ourselves not only with wages, but also with issues such as safety and working conditions.

Eila Kämäräinen (EK) - As for international cooperation, unions worldwide are fighting together to demand decent work for workers everywhere. This must be our objective in all the actions we pursue.


-How will you participate in the international campaign against the work pace in Brazilian poultry plants?

HL - In Finland, the Federation is already disseminating information on working conditions in Brazil, and we’ve published a brochure to be used as a press tool to inform on this issue, but, obviously, most people don’t know what poultry sector conditions are like here.


That is one of the main focus points of our information project: agreeing on common definitions that will allow us to act not only in specific situations or issues, but also in the long term, so that we can change conditions throughout the industry. To achieve that, cooperation is key.

Naturally we will be participating in the IUF’s international campaign and will put all our efforts into it, because the changes we seek are not just for Brazil and Finland, they’re for the whole world.

From São Paulo, Carlos Amorín


July 20, 2009





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               Photos: Gerardo Iglesias and Beatriz Sosa




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