Political labour strife begins

The Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) and its affiliated unions notified Prime Minister Petteri Orpo and Finance Minister Riikka Purra on Thursday 21 September of plans to commence political industrial action next week.
22.09.2023 20:51
Trade union Presidents Ismo Kokko, Päivi Niemi-Laine, Annika Rönni-Sällinen and Riku Aalto, and SAK Vice President Katja Syvärinen.

“We have today advised the political leadership of Finland that SAK and its affiliates will launch organisational measures next week. This is a cry of alarm on behalf of the working population, expressing opposition to the Government’s programme of social welfare cuts and impaired conditions in the world of work, said SAK Vice President Katja Syvärinen on Thursday 21 September.

Syvärinen explains that the unions will take coordinated action, with individual protests ranging from walkouts to various types of demonstration. The first measures will take place on Tuesday 29 September, with actions arranged throughout Finland over a three-week period. Industrial action will be limited to ensure that emergency work continues, and will pose no danger to property, or to lives or health. The trade unions will always announce planned measures in advance four days before they take place. The measures will be listed in Finnish online at www.sak.fi/liittotoimet.

The Presidents of SAK affiliated trade unions report that their members have responded to Government plans with incredulity and indignation. This is made all the worse by the fact that rising living costs have already eroded the financial resilience of employee households.

“Government plans to cut unemployment benefit and reduce worker participation rights will especially affect employees in sectors that are sensitive to the business cycle. While workplaces currently have two months to prepare for temporary layoffs, these plans would break off wage payment in just one week. Coupled with the abolition of child supplements, this will impose massive pressure on working families in particular, says Industrial Union President Riku Aalto.

Service Union United President Annika Rönni-Sällinen is concerned at how the same individuals and their families will bear the full brunt of multiple government cuts.

“There are more part-time workers than ever. For example, half of all vacancies for sales and waiting staff are part-time. These employees already cannot make ends meet, and have to rely on adjusted unemployment benefit and housing allowance. The Government is now cutting these income sources and urging employees to seek full-time work that is simply not available, while using the savings to cut taxes for those on the highest incomes. There is no way to accept such a shameful policy.”

The union leaders are also concerned about long-term structural impacts. The Government is seeking to scrap the current collective bargaining system piece by piece. For example, its local collective bargaining package will bring an end to the generally binding character of national collective agreements.

“There will effectively be so many holes in our labour laws that generally binding agreements will be meaningless. This will inevitably lead to a deterioration in wages and other terms and conditions, such as working hours. It will be possible to set aside the minimum conditions by concluding an agreement locally with any bright spark designated by the employer, thereby bypassing the organised shop stewards,” explains Finnish Transport Workers’ Union President Ismo Kokko.

Legislation to limit official conciliation is another long-term deterioration. Confining the highest pay rises to export industries in future will cement current wage differentials.

“For example, this will condemn cleaners, nurses and employees in services for the elderly to unending low pay. It will leave these employees scraping by on the breadline, and give employers disproportionate difficulties in finding staff for vital functions, stresses Public and Welfare Sectors Trade Union President Päivi Niemi-Laine.

Read more about the Orpo-Purra Government cuts