The stipulations on working hours set fort in the Working Hours Act are too rigid, estimates Harri Hietala, a co-operation ombudsman at the Ministry of Employment and the Economy.

Hietala proposes that the flex-period be lengthened from 3 to 4 hours and that the maximum accumulation of working hours exceeding or falling short of weekly working hours be raised from 40 to 60 hours. Weekly working hours would therefore be capped at 48 hours instead of the current 45 hours.

The Working Hours Act should also allow for the introduction of working-time accounts, Hietala believes.

Relaxing the regulations on working hours is one element of local bargaining that can benefit both employers and employees. Local bargaining allows workplaces to agree on the terms and conditions of employment in greater detail than prescribed in the legislation or collective agreements.

An increase in flexibility is expected to benefit both stakeholders. Local bargaining can even be a means to saving jobs.

Hietala emphasised on Thursday that he is not calling for coercive laws or other coercive measures. “It's simply a question of having a set of norms to go by. We'll also expand the possibilities of bargaining,” he said while presenting his proposal to Jari Lindström (PS), the Minister of Labour and Justice.

A number of collective agreements already allow unionised workplaces to discuss the terms and conditions of employment locally. The establishment-level agreements, however, have largely dealt with working hours but not so much with wages, working-time accounts or measures to reduce sick leaves, as suggested in the government programme.

The optimal solution would according to Hietala be that labour market organisations agree on the issues in collective bargaining negotiations.

“It'd require no changes to the laws on collective bargaining. It'd only require that the stakeholders of collective agreements share a common will and take joint action,” he said.

Hietala also proposes that if an agreement cannot be reached through negotiations the legislation be revised in a way that allows for local bargaining even in the event that it is not possible under the collective agreement. He would also restrict the scope of bargaining but declined on Thursday to comment on how.

The Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) consequently criticised his proposal as far too ambiguous. “It stops short of suggesting to what extent local bargaining can be increased in a unionised sector,” said Markus Äimälä, the head of industrial affairs at EK.

Allowing employers to adopt terms and conditions of employment that are weaker than prescribed in collective agreements would be a bitter pill to swallow for trade unions. The Central Organisation of Finnish Industries (SAK) stated on Thursday that any increase in local bargaining must not result in wage cuts.

SAK also voiced its concern that the entire collective bargaining scheme is crumbling.

Hietala also called attention to the significance of communication by the decision-making bodies of companies because trust between the employer and employee is a prerequisite for local bargaining. Companies should according to him be obliged to share information with their employees under the Act on Co-operation with Undertakings.

Employees, he added, must be better represented in the decision-making bodies of companies to ensure a smooth flow of information. Hietala accordingly proposes that all companies with a minimum of 100 employees, instead of the current 150 employees, be obliged to have an employee representative in their decision-making bodies.

His proposal would increase the possibilities of non-unionised employers to agree on the terms and conditions of employment locally. A number of restrictions, however, will be imposed on local bargaining, such as the requirement that employees are represented in decision-making.

Hietala said the objective is to grant non-unionised employers the same rights as employers that are affiliated with employer organisations.

Lindström refrained on Thursday from commenting on the proposal of Hietala but promised to examine it carefully without delay. “This will not end up gathering dust in the desk drawer,” he pledged.

“This is not an attempt to restrict the possibilities of bargaining, but rather to increase them,” the Minister of Labour and Justice stressed.

Olli Pohjanpalo – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT