Katja Syvärinen, a deputy board chairperson at the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), reacted at a joint news conference of trade unions in Helsinki on Thursday, 21 September 2023. Trade unions, she announced, will stage a series of protests in the coming couple of weeks in a bid to prompt the government to scrap its labour market reforms and social security cuts. (Antti Aimo-Koivisto – Lehtikuva)


THE CENTRAL ORGANISATION of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) on Thursday announced it and its member unions will orchestrate a series of protests against the labour market and social security policies pursued by the government of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP).

Ranging from regional protests to walk-outs, the protests will take place three days a week for the next three weeks.

Katja Syvärinen, a deputy board chairperson at SAK, on Thursday stated at a news conference that the measures have been limited such that they neither endanger essential functions nor pose a threat to the health or wealth of anyone. The purpose of the protests is to force the government to call off spending cuts and labour market reforms, she stated according to YLE.

“If that doesn’t happen, we’ll have turn the screws,” she said. “How does restricting the right to strike bring jobs? We haven’t had any problems with too many strikes.”

Details of the first protest are to be announced on Friday.

Riku Aalto, the chairperson of the Finnish Industrial Union, said trade unions will announce their industrial actions four days before launching them. Ismo Kokko, the chairperson of the Transport Workers’ Union, added that the measures will start with a “lighter touch” but could escalate if necessary.

“Public transport isn’t about to stop next week, but also it hasn’t been ruled out if the situation warrants it,” he stated.

“Everything is possible,” confirmed Päivi Niemi-Laine, the chairperson of the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors (JHL).

The announcement prompted a response from both lawmakers and business advocacies.

“We’re naturally worried that these measures will impact company operations, and [leave] companies to pick up the bill. It’s still unknown how harsh measures we’re talking about,” Jyri Häkämies, the director at the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK), stated to Helsingin Sanomat on Thursday.

Orpo on Thursday stated that labour market organisations have the right to voice their dissatisfaction with government policies.

“My hope is that you proceed with patience. The economic situation is so serious that you should cause as little damage as possible with these measures,” he pleaded in an interview with YLE. “If the demonstrations are such that they genuinely stop production and cause trouble at workplaces, they’ll naturally have an effect.”

The premier revealed he has invited union and industry bosses for talks at Kesäranta on Wednesday. While he underscored the importance of broad-based discussion on labour market issues, he argued that no one should have an outright veto right on reforms.

The measures forwarded by the government are justified for a number of reasons, according to Orpo: labour-market reforms have not been implemented and the country has fallen behind its regional peers in both economic and employment growth while accumulating significant debt.

“Economic growth and employment is what we’re pursuing with these measures. There’s of course a place for discussion, and labour market organisations have plenty of expertise, but as I said no one can have a veto right,” he said.

“We’ve talked about these things for years in society. There was talk before the elections that Finnish labour markets should be more dynamic and closer to Nordic standards.”

Minister of Employment Arto Satonen (NCP) stated to the public broadcasting company that the government is ready to discuss upcoming reforms with labour market organisations as long as the organisations offer genuine alternatives.

“The starting point can’t be that nothing is acceptable and no replacement measures are offered. That system doesn’t get us forward because we have a serious economic situation in Finland, where we have to create jobs in Finland,” he said on YLE A-talk.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT