Finnish Government persists in restricting right to strike despite ILO intervention

Formed less than a year ago, the Finnish Government is showing complete disregard for the country’s international commitments and how they are supervised. This indifference on the part of the Government of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo now extends to concerns expressed by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
26.04. 13:57
An estimated 13 000 protestors took part in a mass demonstration protesting against planned Government cuts in employee rights and social welfare on 1 February in Helsinki. Photo: Ilona Savitie and Sami Mäkinen.

In pursuit of certain questionable ambitions that employer organizations have advocated for decades, the Government is seeking to confine the right to strike within extremely narrow margins, while ignoring criticism from employee organizations and a wide array of legal specialists alike. This means new legislation limiting the duration of political strikes to one day only, curtailing sympathetic strike action, and sharply increasing fines for unlawful strikes. An individual penalty of EUR 200 would also be levied on any employee who continued industrial action that a court had declared unlawful.

In a letter submitted to Minister of Labour Arto Satonen in mid-April, the ILO urged the Government to negotiate with the social partners on any curtailment of the right to strike. The minister nevertheless insisted that all of the required discussions and consultations have already taken place, and the Employment and Equality Committee of Parliament expressed no view on the concerns of the ILO when considering the draft legislative proposal.

SAK Legal Adviser Paula Ilveskivi. Photo: Jaakko Lukumaa.

“Despite the ILO intervention, the governing party majority on the committee forced through a legislative package affecting the right to strike for approval by a plenary session of Parliament, even though this right is a fundamental human right of employees,” SAK Senior Legal Advisor Paula Ilveskivi reports.

While the Constitutional Law Committee of Parliament ultimately approved the proposal, this outcome was far from unanimous. The governing party members forming a majority on the Committee simply ignored the advisory opinions of consulted specialists in constitutional and human rights law.

“This unprecedented approach shows a clear politicisation of the Constitutional Law Committee, damaging its legitimacy as a body charged with ensuring that legislative proposals are constitutional, and that they comply with human rights treaties,” Ilveskivi notes.

This was also not the first time that the views of specialists had been ignored during the term of the Orpo Government, as the Committee previously showed similar disregard when considering cuts in social welfare legislation.

“The politicisation of the Constitutional Law Committee lends credence to calls for establishing an independent constitutional court in Finland,” Paula Ilveskivi points out.

The direct ILO intervention addressed to the Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment responds to a request submitted to the Director-General of the ILO by the International Trade Union Confederation ITUC. This request reflected efforts by the Finnish Government to amend legislation on the right to strike.

“The ITUC does not submit intervention requests to the ILO Director-General lightly, nor does the ILO entertain unfounded requests,” Ilveskivi stresses.

Risking Finland’s reputation as an attractive country for foreign investment and talent

The indifference of the Finnish Government is evident insofar as Minister of Labour Satonen seems to be ignoring the ILO intervention, with the parliamentary passage of new strike legislation continued and even accelerated.

“Egged on by the employers, the Government and governing parties seem to be riding roughshod over employees and the opposition parties. This approach is obliterating the idea of consensus policymaking in Finland,” SAK Senior Legal Advisor Paula Ilveskivi says.

She notes that only complete arrogance or incomprehension can account for the attitude of the Orpo Government and its Minister of Labour towards the ILO intervention, which is motivated by the general duty of the ILO to assist Member States in complying with their treaty obligations.

Interventions of this kind tend to be made in significant cases of legislative change. Follow-up measures may then include discussions between the ILO and the authorities of the Member State concerned, and visits by ILO specialists to the country. The ILO may also assist a government in assessing draft legislation in the context of international labour standards and their monitoring practice, and it may provide advice on comparative application practices.

“The Orpo Government is now dragging Finland into the group of countries that have to be held accountable internationally for their human rights violations. This will hardly enhance the reputation of Finland as an attractive target for the foreign investment and talent that its government needs,” Ilveskivi points out.

The proposal to amend legislation governing the right to strike is currently under consideration at a plenary session of Parliament.

“We can only hope that MPs will find the wisdom and courage to reassess this issue and reject the proposal, as the opposition Social Democrats, Left Alliance and Greens recommend in their objection to the report of the Employment and Equality Committee,” Paula Ilveskivi says.