Juhana Vartiainen (NCP), the Mayor of Helsinki, was photographed during a media availability concerning the capital city’s long-standing payroll issues at Helsinki City Hall on 10 August 2022. (Kimmo Penttinen – Str / Lehtikuva)


MAYOR of Helsinki Juhana Vartiainen (NCP) is under growing pressure from local decision-makers to take more responsibility for the months-long payroll disruptions at the City of Helsinki, reports Helsingin Sanomat.

Heavy criticism has been levelled also at the mayor’s chief of staff, Sami Sarvilinna.

The payroll problems began following a migration to a new payroll system deployed by Sarastia at the turn of March and April. Helsingin Sanomat in July wrote that it was realised during the migration that the system has obvious shortcomings and the automated functions are prone to mistakes that are undetected until a wage has been paid erroneously or left unpaid altogether.

Payroll clerks interviewed by the newspaper also viewed that the problems would not have exacerbated to the current extent had the city taken the long-standing staff shortage more seriously.

The mess has affected thousands of employees and spawned numerous reports of offences, prompting a pre-trial investigation by Helsinki Police Department.

Helsingin Sanomat on Wednesday asked who should be to blame from the chairpersons of the largest political groups on Helsinki City Council.

Maarit Vierunen of the National Coalition described the payroll woes to the newspaper as probably one of the biggest failures in the capital city given that the payment of wages is one of the core responsibilities of an employer. She viewed that the responsibility for resolving the woes falls on local officials, the system supplier and the mayor-led Helsinki City Board.

She added that while the board is shocked that the problems still persist, it is expected to take at least until next spring until the payroll system is functioning as intended. It is now the duty of policy-makers to make sure the officials have all the necessary resources at their disposal to normalise the situation.

“Effectively it means as much money as they need,” said Vierunen.

Both Amanda Pasanen of the Greens and Eveliina Heinäluoma of the Social Democrats said the responsibility falls ultimately on the mayor and his chief of staff.

“In early June, [Vartiainen] stated at a council meeting that the issue would be fixed. It’s now mid-August, and we’re hearing that the problems will drag on into the autumn,” lamented Pasanen.

Heinäluoma stated that the situation has been challenging because councillors have had to rely on public sources for information, given the lack of updates during the process. “Under the city’s administrative structure, the operational power belongs to the mayor and chief of staff. Everyone else can only wait for the fixes to be brought up for discussion,” she said.

Neither Vartiainen nor Sarvilinna has treated the situation with the seriousness required, echoed Mia Haglund of the Left Alliance.

“I hope they’d demonstrate both internally and publicly that the issue is taken seriously and concrete actions are on the way. Now we’ve moved forward with the relatively uncertain impression that something will happen in the autumn,” told Haglund.

Mari Rantanen of the Finns Party lamented that no one has yet to take responsibility for the problems, not within the organisation let alone publicly, even though the problems relate to the livelihood of thousands of people. The situation is simply unbearable, she said.

“The mayor should ultimately be responsible for this, but apparently he has had more pressing things to do, like travel the world,” stated Rantanen. “In many countries, a failure of this magnitude would lead to a departure or a realisation that it’s time to go.”

Both Vartiainen and Sarvilinna told Helsingin Sanomat they took action immediately as the problems emerged.

“I’ve taken action as soon as problems started to occur. It hasn’t necessary been reflected in media publicity. I’m primarily trying to fix the problems, and I’m not fixing them on Twitter and in public,” retorted Vartiainen.

“We’ve done our best so that the staff is aware of the situation. But this is an enormous organisation, and we’ve also been in the middle of the holiday season. I’m sure there’s room for improvement, but we’ve done our best. From now on briefings with the staff will be organised regularly.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT