Members of the Finnish Food Workers’ Union picketed outside a bakery in Vantaa on 13 February 2024. Helsingin Sanomat and Maaseudun Tulevaisuus have reported that the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) could decide a series of up to four-day strikes as soon as on Tuesday, 5 March 2024, representing the escalation of protests against the labour market reforms pursued by the Finnish government. (Antti Aimo-Koivisto – Lehtikuva)

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MEMBER UNIONS of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) have laid out plans to stage a series of political strikes in mid-March, indicates information obtained by Helsingin Sanomat and Maaseudun Tulevaisuus.

Set to last up to four days, the strikes signal the escalation of opposition to the labour market reforms and social security cuts pursued by the government of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP).

The political strikes organised earlier this year have lasted one to two days.

Information obtained by the two newspapers reveals that a decision on the scope and targeting of the strikes could be made as soon as on Tuesday, 5 March. Jarkko Eloranta, the chairperson at SAK, is expected to comment on the strained labour market situation at a news conference today.

Orpo on Monday stated that he has invited key employer and employee organisations to discuss ways to develop the labour market system on Friday. The invitation was submitted to around two dozen labour market bosses who engaged in provisional discussions about developing the export-driven wage formulation system at the end of last year.

With SAK demanding that also other issues be added to the agenda, the discussions never began in earnest.

The Finnish government is moving forward with a bill that would prohibit the national conciliator and conciliatory boards from offering wage increases that exceed the so-called general increases thrashed out in export-oriented industries. The bill has drawn opposition especially from public-sector unions, which argue that it would condemn their members to income inequality by preventing them from narrowing the gap to private-sector employees.

Orpo hopes that the wage formulation system can be instituted as per an agreement between labour market organisations rather than legislative action.

Katariina Murto, the chairperson of the Trade Union of Education in Finland (OAJ), commended the prime minister for attempting to resume the discussions. OAJ in February urged the premier to re-summon labour market organisations to the negotiating table.

“I appreciate this invitation. The prime minister has the responsibility and opportunity to solve the labour market crisis,” she commented on Monday.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment on Friday presented for comments a legislative proposal to increase local bargaining possibilities at workplaces, appended by a dissenting opinion from SAK, the Finnish Confederation of Professionals (STTK) and the Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff (Akava).

The proposal contains legislative amendments that would make local bargaining equally possible in all companies irrespective of whether the company is a member of an employer organisation or whether the workplace has a union-appointed shop steward.

The government views local bargaining as a means to increase labour market flexibility and prop up economic, employment, competitiveness and productivity development.

The Finnish Industrial Union, which is a member of SAK, has branded the proposal as dismal, arguing that it would result in the deterioration of general applicability and proliferation of weak local terms and conditions.

“A distorted competitive environment is a risk especially in the technology industry because it is possible to agree on remuneration and working hours regardless of the minimums laid out in collective bargaining agreements,” stated Turja Lehtonen, a deputy chairperson at the Industrial Union.

“Honest Finnish business owners will lose in this kind of competition, whereas shady operators can trample on employment terms under the protection of law.”

Lehtonen said the Industrial Union has been a pioneer of local bargaining in Finland. The role, however, may soon be a thing of the past.

“The locally agreeable elements of terms and conditions of employment in the technology industry have been built on a world of trust that, unfortunately, no longer exists. That is why we are seriously considering reneging on them in the next labour market round,” he said.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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