A person at Helsinki Central on Thursday, 23 March 2023. Both commuter and long-distance trains are set to resume operations today as locomotive drivers return to work following a deal between Railway Union Finland (RAU) and Service Sector Employers (Palta). (Heikki Saukkomaa – Lehtikuva)


RAIL SERVICES in Finland should be restored to normal by this evening.

Railway Union Finland (RAU) and Service Sector Employers (Palta) on Thursday approved a proposal to settle their differences over the terms and conditions of employment of locomotive drivers, signalling the end of the driver strike that had halted virtually all rail services in Finland since Monday.

The proposal was submitted by the national conciliator. “Congratulations to the negotiations; it was an arduous task, but the fourth attempt finally yielded an agreement,” the conciliator commented on Twitter.

Locomotive drivers will return to work starting with their shifts on Friday.

VR, the Finnish state-owned railway company, on Thursday reiterated that it will take around 24 hours to normalise rail services after the agreement. The first long-distance trains are to return to operation in the early hours of Friday.

Tero Palomäki, the chairperson at RAU, described the agreement as a “meagre compromise” on occupational well-being in an interview with YLE on Thursday. The labour market organisations agreed to set up a number of task forces to examine the structure of work shifts, the balance between work and free time, and mull over measures to improve occupational well-being in co-operation with an outside expert.

“This is a kind of meagre compromise. We viewed that bringing these provisions to the collective bargaining agreement would’ve required a weeks-long strike,” he said.

“We have confidence that we can get a lot done with task forces.”

The weekly rest periods of locomotive drivers, the foremost bone of contention in the protracted collective bargaining negotiations, will increase for all drivers from 56 hours to 58–60 hours based on the results of local discussions.

“That’s why we have more confidence that things will actually improve. This naturally involves local bargaining as necessary. The weekly rest period can be between 58 and 60 hours,” he stated to the public broadcaster.

The agreement also grants locomotive drivers pay rises that match the so-called general line, the rises thrashed out in key export industries. The drivers will receive a roughly four-per-cent increase in pay later this spring and another two-per-cent increase in June 2024. The labour market organisations agreed to forgo non-recurring bonuses and instead implement the increases earlier than in other sectors.

Tuomas Aarto, the managing director of Palta, yesterday voiced his delight that the long-running labour dispute has been settled, saying the agreement not only aligns with the general line but also lays out investments in local bargaining and occupational well-being.

“As part of the project to improve occupational health, we can agree on the length of weekly rest periods locally in some circumstances in the future. This was the most difficult bone of contention in these negotiations,” he said to YLE.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT