Chairpersons Riku Aalto of the Finnish Industrial Union, Jarkko Eloranta of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) and Håkan Ekström of the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors (JHL) prepared to give a press conference about another series of industrial actions in Helsinki on Wednesday, 6 March 2024. The unions announced a two-week political strike that is expected to disrupt cargo handling at ports, cargo transport by rail and process industries. (Jussi Nukari – Lehtikuva)

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TRADE UNIONS in Finland on Wednesday announced a two-week political strike with ramifications especially for goods transport.

Organised in opposition to the labour market reforms and social security cuts laid out by the government of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP), the strike is set to halt cargo transport at ports, disrupt freight rail services and complicate the operations of process industries.

It is to start on Monday, 11 March, and end on Sunday, 24 March.

The Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) on Wednesday estimated that roughly 7,000 employees will be participating in the strike, a number that represents a clear drop from the hundreds of thousands that took part in the one-to-two-day political strikes organised earlier this year.

Helsingin Sanomat estimated in its analysis that unions appear to have re-thought their strategy in order to have as great an impact as possible with a relatively low number of employees – while avoiding both risking losing public sympathy and having to dig deep into their coffers to fork out strike pays.

No food shortages, passenger transport disruptions are expected

The Finnish Transport Workers’ Union (AKT) and Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors (JHL) on Wednesday assured that the strike should have no impact on passenger transport.

Ismo Kokko, the chairperson at AKT, estimated that the strike could cause limited availability issues but reminded that the union has traditionally unloaded feed and fresh produce from ships during strikes.

“Food hasn’t run out from shops previously, and it won’t run out this time either. It may be that some speciality items aren’t constantly available, but people can sleep easy,” he appeased according to Helsingin Sanomat.

The two-week strike will quickly have an impact on industries given that a substantial share of their raw materials, intermediary products and end products are transported by rail, added Håkan Ekström, the chairperson at JHL.

“Rail yards will be full of carriages with unhandled cargo within a couple of days,” he predicted.

Fuel shortages at airports and service stations possible, says union

Both AKT and the Finnish Industrial Union took aim at Neste, the former staging a strike at fuel terminals and the latter at fuel distribution centres. The Industrial Union viewed that the strike has the potential to even cause fuel shortages at airports and service stations.

“It’s clear that fuel will run out at some point during the strikes. It’ll have an impact on consumers,” Turja Lehtonen, a deputy chairperson of the Industrial Union, stated to Helsingin Sanomat.

The union, he added, will make sure the disruption will not have an impact on hospitals or the heating of detached homes, for example.

Spokespeople from St1, SOK and Neste on Wednesday confirmed to Helsingin Sanomat that the strike could have an effect on fuel availability at some service stations. In general, though, they offered a more modest estimate of the possible effects.

“We are prepared for various emergencies, and we will do our utmost to respond to fuel demand as normally as possible during the possible strike. Given that the strike lasts two weeks, however, we cannot rule out momentary local disruptions in fuel distribution,” Harri Tuomaala, the head of ABC at SOK, said to the newspaper.

Neste said the strikes will “disrupt” fuel distribution.

“If the announced political strikes were carried out according to plan, we would have to shut down production at Neste’s Porvoo refinery within a few days after the strike has started,” the oil company messaged to Helsingin Sanomat. “This is caused by the discontinuation of raw material deliveries and the filling of product storages. The refinery has not been designed to be shut down during the winter months. A shutdown at such a short timetable would cause substantial process, environmental and personal safety risks.”

A Finnair spokesperson communicated to the newspaper that the majority state-owned airline is continuing to evaluate the possible effects on aircraft fuelling, adding that it is premature to estimate whether the strikes could have an impact on flights.

Members of the Industrial Union will also go on strike at the steel mill of Outokumpu in Tornio, at the steel mill of SSAB in Raahe and the silicon wafer factory of Okmetic in Vantaa. Together with Trade Union Pro, the union will also organise a separate one-day strike at, for example, the workplaces of ABB, Keitele and Kone on Friday, 15 March.

Satonen: Government to push forward despite strikes

Minister of Employment Arto Satonen (NCP) on Wednesday declared to STT that the government will move forward with its proposals on industrial peace and local bargaining in spite of the newly announced strikes.

Prime Minister Orpo (NCP), in turn, viewed that the strikes are regrettable but will not resolve the issue. He communicated to the news agency through an aide that the lengthy political strikes will cause enormous damage to the national economy and inflict significant costs on taxpayers.

Minister of Finance Riikka Purra (PS) accused the trade unions of deliberately deepening the economic recession in Finland.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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