Empty bus platforms at Railway Square in Helsinki on Friday, 2 February 2024. The Finnish Industrial Union and Trade Union Pro have announced a three-day work stoppage for later this month, indicating that they plan to continue applying pressure until the government engages in genuine discussions with trade unions over its proposals concerning the labour market and unemployment security. (Antti Aimo-Koivisto – Lehtikuva)

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THE FINNISH Industrial Union and Trade Union Pro on Friday issued a warning of a series of work stoppages in several industrial sectors on 14–16 February.

Riku Aalto, the chairperson of the Industrial Union, argued in a press release that the trade union has no choice but to ramp up its actions because the government continues to show no readiness whatsoever to lend an ear to employees as it pursues changes to employee rights and unemployment security.

The union said around 60,000 of its members would take part in the three-day work stoppages at production sites of companies including ABB, Kone, Konecranes, Metso, Meyer Turku, Nokian Tyres, Ponsse, SSAB, Stora Enso, Terrafame, Valmet and Versowood.

“The Industrial Union will continue to tighten the strike screw,” he declared.

“We won’t tolerate the demolition of structures that were built to protect employees. The negative changes outlined by the government have nothing to do with employment. They are simply a manifestation of an ideology that industries have dictated to the ruling parties.”

Currently, a key concern for the union is related to the changes local bargaining would impose on the terms and conditions of employment, their monitoring and the representation of employees.

“The proposal on local bargaining is the taxi reform of labour markets,” he argued, pointing to the widely berated reform carried out by the government of Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre). “Its losers will be local business owners who don’t want to compete with weak terms of employment. Its winners will be shady sub-contractors and companies employing a lot of foreigners.”

Trade Union Pro on Friday announced some 7,000 of its members would take part in the three-day stoppages in the chemicals, technology and textile and fashion industries, including at workplaces of Fiskars, Isku, Marimekko, Martela, Outokumpu, Tikkurila and Wärtsilä.

Also it pointed to the lack of genuine negotiations between the central administration and trade unions, as evidenced by recent remarks by Minister of Employment Arto Satonen (NCP).

Satonen on Thursday stated to Helsingin Sanomat that the expansion of local bargaining would have an impact on employment, even though ministry officials have been unable to produce calculations to substantiate it.

“The problem isn’t that these measures wouldn’t really have effects, but that officials at the Ministry of Finance haven’t been able to calculate them with their methods. For example, expanding local bargaining to unorganised workplaces would have an impact according to a survey by Suomen Yrittäjät, but there are no studies that could prove it beyond doubt,” stated Satonen.

“The tripartite task forces mentioned in comments by the minister have so far been about theatrics without a genuine opportunity to influence [the outcome], and so we have no choice but to carry on with the work stoppages,” countered Jorma Malinen, the chairperson of Trade Union Pro.

The Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) on Friday warned that the industrial actions are beginning to pose a real risk to jobs in Finland.

“Wage earners are jeopardising the economic sustainability of their own employers and, as a result, their own jobs,” Ilkka Oksala, the head of labour market affairs at EK, said to Helsingin Sanomat. “Companies that aren’t exactly on solid ground may have to make temporary and permanent lay-offs.”

While Oksala declined to estimate the economic impact of the newly announced stoppages, EK has estimated that the political strikes and other industrial actions staged last week could dent gross domestic product by 360 million euros. Altogether around 300,000 employees participated in the almost unprecedented actions organised between last Wednesday and Friday.

“The costs will depend on which unions ultimately participate in the stoppages. We aren’t concealing this information, but we’ll announce it as soon as we have it,” said Oksala.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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