The dismissal bill dispute escalates in Finland

The dispute over Government efforts to make it easier to dismiss employees in small companies in Finland has not abated. Quite the contrary.
10.10. 16:52
SAK
SAK Unions' gathering was held in Paasitorni, former Helsinki Workers’ House. Photo: Jonny Smeds / SAK

Trade unions are demanding an end to the preparations of the law amendment and are open to negotiations with the Government – which has shown no indication it is willing to negotiate. 

SAK, the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions held a meeting of more than 500 of its affiliated unions decision-makers in Helsinki on Friday 5 October.

Their message was clear: the Government must drop the amendment. The unions do not accept that employment security should be based on the size of the company.

The Government stresses that it already did its part by modifying the proposal by dropping the size of the companies concerned from less than 20 employees to less than 10 employees. 

The criticism against the proposed legislation centres around the fact that employment security is based on the size of the company. The Government has thus made a move – which they call a compromise – where employment security once again revolves around the size of the company. The trade unions are having great difficulty in trying to follow the logic of all this and have called for negotiations.

To skin a flea

SAK President Jarkko Eloranta appealed to the Government for some sense of proportion in his speech at the SAK Unions' gathering. He reminded everyone of the official goal of the amendment which was to improve employment. 

Now, according to Eloranta, with the modified proposal the new law would cover a little over 100,000 employees in small companies. The effects on employment would be minimal.

Eloranta quoted Lasse Laatunen, the long time, now retired labour market director of the Confederation of Finnish Industries EK. The Government plan is akin to skinning a flea, Laatunen suggested. It would benefit no-one, he added.

Former employer confederation director Laatunen fired a broadside against the Government in his column in the evening newspaper Iltalehti.

"The whole dismissal project has been strange from the very beginning. Economists doubt the benefits for employment. There has been no real understanding of dismissal legislation and existing court practise. Decisions in dismissal cases do currently take into consideration all aspects." The size of the company is one of these aspects, Laatunen adds.

"You do not extinguish fire with oil", says Laatunen in summing up his strategy advice to the Government and calls on it to withdraw the proposal and establish a joint working party.

The Industrial Union ready to take harder measures

Several trade unions – including Trade Union Pro, the Industrial Union, the Union of Professional Engineers in Finland IL, the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors JHL and the Service Union United PAM – are continuing with their overtime and shift swap bans in protest against the amendment

The Transport Workers' Union AKT started this week to expand overtime and shift swap ban at ports, terminals, oil refineries and flight companies. Overtime work is common in these sectors and the ban might lead to some irregularities in harbours and flights. The ban is in force for three weeks.

The Trade Union of Education OAJ overtime and shift swap ban in private day care began on Monday 8 October. Talentia Union of the Professional Social Workers began an overtime and shift swap ban in several sectors also on Monday. 

New trade union measures are expected if the Government is not willing to drop the proposal. The Industrial Union has already held a limited 24-hour strike within their sector. Now it has announced that it will begin "harder measures" to defend employment security, if needed.

The Union has not specified yet what these will be but stresses that the measures could be cancelled if the proposal is withdrawn. This gives the Government a fair chance to prevent an escalation in the dispute and begin real negotiations.

Heikki Jokinen / Freelancer