A sign outside the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) on Mannerheimintie in Helsinki in November 2022. THL has announced that it will downsize its staff by about 15 per cent in order to meet the government-imposed cost-saving target of 12 million euros, resorting to means such as lay-offs, pension arrangements and contract non-renewals. (Heikki Saukkomaa – Lehtikuva)

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SHOP STEWARDS at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) have expressed their alarm about the ramifications of newly announced cost savings for the role of the research institute, reports Helsingin Sanomat.

“The THL of tomorrow won’t be what it was during the coronavirus pandemic,” Markus Perola, a deputy chief shop steward at THL, summarised in an interview with the newspaper on Tuesday.

THL on Tuesday announced it will reduce its headcount by a total of 206, including by laying off 93 staff members, in order to meet its government-imposed cost-savings target of around 12 million euros. In addition to lay-offs, the headcount will be reduced by means of pension arrangements and non-renewals of fixed-term contracts, for example.

A decision on the cost-saving measures was made unilaterally after consultative negotiations with staff representatives failed to yield a mutually satisfactory outcome.

“The change process has been taxing on the entire staff. We did, however, manage to significantly reduce the number of employees who will be laid off during the negotiations, which is a good thing,” commented Mika Salminen, the managing director at THL.

The institute acknowledged in the press release that the measures will have an effect on many of its functions. Significant downsizing will be carried out in, for example, the health security department, which was in charge of handling the coronavirus pandemic, the department in charge of longer-term monitoring of public health and well-being, and the knowledge brokers department, which is in charge of data production and information management in social and health care services.

Timo Sinervo, the chief shop steward at THL, stated to Helsingin Sanomat on Tuesday that the cost cuts will end certain long-term health monitoring projects, such as surveys and tests that track cholesterol levels among the public.

While similar studies can be carried out elsewhere, the results may not be comparable, he added.

The lay-offs will affect preventative, research and counselling efforts, including vaccination counselling, research on the health effects of noise and the work of the Centre for Gender Equality Information.

The shop stewards expressed their bafflement with the cuts, describing them as strategic choices given that they generate no significant cost savings because the research teams in question have largely operated with external funding.

“Typically you go after these kinds of research funding, but now you’re pushing it out of the house,” said Perola. “It’s completely unprecedented that you’re pulling the plug on research themes with stable funding simply because you think that you’d rather not do this kind of work.”

Salminen said to the newspaper that the institution had no choice to “cut some runners”. Although the cuts will push certain research to universities, he assured that the institution will continue to produce data and insights.

“Because we had such large change negotiations, where the government decided to take 15 per cent of our resources, it’s absolutely clear that we’ll have to set up some boundaries for what we can and can’t do in future,” he said. “The whole idea is that research as such doesn’t suffer but that it could continue elsewhere in a way from a better foundation.”

“If we dragged our feet, the situation could become even worse later.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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