Jarkko Eloranta, the chairperson of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), spoke to reporters in Helsinki on Wednesday, 20 March 2024. Eloranta expressed his disappointment with his meeting yesterday with Minister of Employment Arto Satonen (NCP). “A cup of tea, a glass of water and a bit of talk,” he summed up. (Antti Aimo-Koivisto – Lehtikuva)

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THE CENTRAL ORGANISATION of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) is intent on extending the political strikes launched in protest of the labour market reforms and social security cuts pursued by the government of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP).

Around 7,000 workers have taken part in the carefully targeted strikes since 11 March.

Halting the handling of cargo at ports, disrupting rail freight traffic and complicating industrial processes, the strikes were scheduled to end at the start of next week.

The Finnish Industrial Union and Transport Workers’ Union (AKT) on Wednesday announced they will extend the strikes by a week, until the end of the month. SAK itself, however, did not specify the duration of the extension.

“We have the readiness to suspend the strikes at any moment if the government shows that it understands the concerns of employees,” said Jarkko Eloranta, the chairperson at SAK.

“The government made no concessions, but it is still intent on realising numerous labour market objectives that are negative for employees. Several of them will not have an impact on employment or the balance of public finances. They are not based on factual but rather on ideological reasons,” he alleged in a press release.

SAK on Wednesday also called attention to a recent survey it commissioned, which shows that 54 per cent of the public approves the strikes staged by trade unions. Support for the actions, it added, is strong particularly among young people, women and blue-collar workers.

“We continue to have strong public support. Even though employees from only some sectors are on strike, this is a joint effort by SAK,” said Eloranta.

The survey was carried out on 13–17 March by Verian.

Riku Aalto, the chairperson of the Industrial Union, accused the government and employer organisations of trying to “force workers into submission” and creating permanent unrest in the labour market.

“We are continuing to call for genuine negotiations about the labour market reforms. That is the only way to dispel the tension and restore industrial peace,” he said in a press release. “You also have to keep in mind what else it at stake. Poverty in Finland will increase by 10,000 people because earnings-based benefits are cut by a billion euros, 17,000 children will fall into poverty when the total impact of the cuts hits.”

Aalto also told that the scope of the strike has been adjusted slightly to guarantee the jet fuel deliveries required to avoid disruptions in air travel. “With the National Emergency Supply Agency (HVK), we’ve already agreed on some kerosene deliveries that secure certain flights,” he was quoted saying by YLE.

HVK on Wednesday, however, estimated that fuel distribution in general has not been sufficiently ruled outside the scope of the strikes. Janne Känkänen, the managing director at HVK, stated to Helsingin Sanomat that if the scope of the strikes is unchanged, the strikes could cause problems for the security of fuel supply.

The agency estimated earlier that if the strikes widened or continued beyond their two-week duration, they would likely undermine security of supply and efforts to guarantee it.

The Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) on Wednesday estimated that the extension could hurt the economy to the tune of 260 million euros, raising the total cost of the strikes to 1.5 billion euros. Jyri Häkämies, the director general at EK, argued in a press release that the third week of the strikes will be more costly than the previous weeks because many companies will lose clients and more will have to suspend production.

Häkämies said he is particularly disappointed with the extension because the government has declared that it has no intention to back down on the proposals.

“One would hope that moderation and reason prevailed in the labour movement,” he was quoted saying by YLE.

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP) confirmed that the government is adamant in its position in an interview with STT on Wednesday. “The government still won’t give in to pressure on these issues. Negotiating, discussing and talking, those are the ways to find solutions. My hope is that we could continue on that path and forgo these strikes,” he said to the news agency.

Minister of Employment Arto Satonen (NCP) sat down with representatives from both sides of the labour dispute earlier yesterday, telling reporters that the discussions can continue if no further industrial actions are announced by SAK. The discussions, he said, left him with the impression that both sides were willing to seek answers to the impasse.

Trade unions left the meeting with a starkly different impression, as evidenced by the extension announcement from SAK.

“A cup of tea, a glass of water and a bit of talk,” Eloranta was quoted summarising to reporters as he was leaving the meeting by Ilta-Sanomat.

“Neither side made any offers,” he elaborated later yesterday at a news conference, accusing the government of being cold-hearted and unwilling to listen when it comes to the concerns of ordinary people. “I have to say that the reception wasn’t terribly warm.”

“This does not bode well for future. Today, many are concerned what the government’s framework session in April will bring,” he added in the press release.

Helsingin Sanomat had reported before the meeting that the government is considering making some concessions to trade unions.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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