Chairperson of the Industrial Union Riku Aalto attended a joint press conference of trade unions in Helsinki on Thursday, 21 September 2023. The Industrial Union will organise a number of hour-long walk-outs and work stoppages this week across Finland. (Antti Aimo-Koivisto – Lehtikuva)

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TRADE UNIONS in Finland have detailed their first protests against the labour market reforms and social security cuts planned by the government, reports Helsingin Sanomat.

The Industrial Union, Trade Union Pro and Finnish Electrical Workers’ Union on Saturday revealed they will organise short work stoppages, walk-outs and protests this week at a number of workplaces in Satakunta and Southwest Finland.

Electrical workers, for example, will stage stoppages at Turku Energy and Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant.

The Industrial Union last week also announced a series of hour-long walk-outs at workplaces in northern and eastern parts of the country. Service Union United (PAM) and the Finnish Construction Trade Union, in turn, will stage demonstrations outside working hours in Joensuu, Mikkeli and Kuopio on Thursday.

The industrial actions are part of protests that will take place three days a week for the next three weeks, union bosses revealed at a joint conference hosted last Thursday by the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK).

The bosses indicated their readiness to to ramp up the measures if necessary.

Minister of Finance Riikka Purra (PS) on Friday issued a press release accusing trade unions of lying, distorting facts, making threats and promoting activities of the political opposition in their opposition to the reforms and spending cuts. Trade unions, she added, have been unwilling to discuss working-life reforms in a fashion that is genuine and focused on finding common denominators.

Provisions in the government programme have been “clearly misunderstood either intentionally or unintentionally” by union bosses, according to Purra.

She referred to the plan to relieve employers not covered by a collective bargaining agreement of their obligation to pay employees for the first day of a sick leave.

“No one’s pay during sick leave will be cut automatically. This kind of a claim is simply a lie,” she stated.

Her statement is at the very least misleading, according to Helsingin Sanomat. About 11 per cent of employees in the country are not covered by a collective bargaining agreement, meaning they would be affected by the revision if they have not agreed locally on pay during sick-leave pay.

Riku Aalto, the chairperson of the Industrial Union, responded to Purra by asking what are the merits of drafting a piece of legislation that is not expected to have any practical impacts.

Finnish trade unions have also expressed their concern about the proposal to rein in political strikes with the introduction of a maximum duration of one day for such strikes, the proposal to rephrase the criteria for terminating an employee on personal grounds and the proposal to disable the national conciliator or another conciliatory body from offering wage increases that exceed those in export-oriented industries.

The government is also set to relax the rules concerning notices for temporary lay-offs, remove the re-employment requirement for companies with fewer than 50 staff and allow employers to offer one-year fixed-term contracts without special reasons.

Many of its spending cuts are targeting social security.

The cuts have been justified by citing their expected impact on employment and public finances – with varying degrees of evidence, wrote Helsingin Sanomat. The first amendments to earnings-based unemployment security have been estimated to grow the number of the employed by 20,000. The Ministry of Finance, on the other hand, has not found research substantiating the reported employment impacts of cutting the housing allowance or promoting local bargaining.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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