Minister of Employment Arto Satonen (NCP) spoke to reporters in Helsinki on Thursday, 22 February 2024. Satonen argued that the restrictions the government intends to impose on political and sympathy strikes create a kind of certainty that could encourage companies to invest in Finland. (Mikko Stig – Lehtikuva)

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THE FINNISH GOVERNMENT is intent on moving forward with its much-debated restrictions to political and sympathy strikes largely in accordance with the government programme, suggest remarks made by Minister of Employment Arto Satonen (NCP) on Thursday.

The government is expected to submit the bill to parliament at the turn of the month and enact the amendments in July, according to Helsingin Sanomat.

“This will create a certain kind of certainty to, for example, parties that are considering making investments in Finland. We’ve lacked rules on political and sympathy strikes, and now we’re making those rules. These measures are moderate in international comparison,” he stated at a press conference in Helsinki.

The bill itself was not published on on Thursday. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, however, confirmed that it aligns primarily with the draft bill that was published for comments in October.

The objective is to rein in sympathy strikes to ensure they do not cause unreasonable harm to third companies, to limit the duration of political strikes to 24 hours and to limit the duration of other industrial actions, such as overtime bans, to two weeks, Helsingin Sanomat reported on Thursday.

The government is also intent on raising the fines issued for illegal strikes to a minimum of 10,000 euros and maximum of 150,000 euros. Employees could additionally be issued a personal fine of 200 euros if they knowingly continue an industrial action that has been ruled as illegal by the labour court.

Annually the court issues roughly 40 rulings that employees have infringed on the industrial peace legislation.

“This change is a key one in terms of its impact,” argued Satonen.

The government has made some amendments to the bill based on feedback from stakeholders.

The amended bill will enable courts to issue a smaller fine or forgo imposing one altogether – a major concession in light of the government programme, according to Satonen. A large fine, he explained, could in some circumstances jeopardise the ability of a small trade union branch to continue operations.

He also confirmed the removal of text that would have obligated the organiser of sympathy action to ensure the continuation of key societal functions and services, such as hospital and other health care services, services related to food and energy supply, services related to public safety and, in some circumstances, port and transport services.

The time limit on political strikes will be enforced more strictly than initially proposed, according to information obtained by Helsingin Sanomat.

Employer organisations have called on the government to take into consideration the fact that a 24-hour political strike could effectively last longer due to the time it takes to shut down and re-start industrial processes.

“The shutdown and start-up times have been taken into consideration in the proposal by stating that employee organisations should seek to limit the effects to 24 hours with the means at their disposal,” Nico Steiner, a senior ministerial adviser at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, said on Thursday.

He denied the interpretation that the clause could effectively ban political strikes entirely in some sectors.

“A work stoppage can principally last for 24 hours. But you have to think if there are ways to minimise the effects outside that time window one way or another. The justification for the bill acknowledges that this could effectively require some additional arrangements, such as ensuring a minimum level of staff, from trade unions.”

Jyri Häkämies, the director general at the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK), on Thursday said to Helsingin Sanomat he is pleased that the legislative project is “finally” moving forward.

Jarkko Eloranta, the chairperson of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), lamented that the concerns of wage earners were ignored almost completely during the preparatory work. The bill, he added, also fails to define clearly what types of sympathy actions are allowed and what are disallowed.

“As you’re simultaneously raising strike fines significantly, you’re limiting the right to resort to industrial action through this deterrent. I think the 200-euro fine on individuals is alien to Finnish jurisprudence, given that the individual is punished for exercising a collective right,” said Eloranta.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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