A truce in the struggle over dismissal law and new tripartite bill beckons peace in labour market

Finnish trade unions are ready to accept the tripartite proposal for an amendment to the Employment Contracts Act concerning the disputed dismissal paragraph. In practise the amendment will not change anything. Industrial actions are over now, too.
12.11.2018 10:00
Photo: Patrik Lindström / SAK

The long struggle began when the right-wing Government tried to ease individual dismissal in companies with less than 20 employees. The unions were adamant that they would not accept any weakening of employment security.

Once strong resistance from the unions became clear the Government tried to salvage their proposal by setting the limit to 10 employees, but for the unions it was a question of principle, not a question of numbers. Government intransigence and their unwillingness to negotiate led to industrial action been taken by several unions in September and October.

Finally, at the end of October the Government agreed to negotiate and the unions suspended industrial action during the process. And on November 8 the Government presented a new bill, this time negotiated tripartially with the labour market organisations.

Practically nothing will change

The new proposal reaffirms exactly what is currently in place—that individual dismissal would only be possible on proper and weighty grounds.
At the moment the law stipulates that "the employer's and the employee's overall circumstances must be taken into account when assessing the proper and weighty nature of the reason."

The new proposal would add in this paragraph that the number of employees should be one aspect to be taken into consideration - but without mentioning the number of employees.

SAK, the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions is of the opinion that the proposed amendments will not make any significant difference.

Even though the existing law makes no reference to the size of the company as a legal ground when assessing the legality of an individual dismissal, it should be remembered the courts have long taken this factor into consideration, SAK says.

The criteria for arbitrary dismissals remain unchanged and still apply to enterprises of all sizes. Employers would still be obligated to caution their employees first and give them the chance to redeem themselves. Dismissal is only possible if an employee repeatedly acts in reprehensible ways.

Unlawful reasons for dismissals—such as trade union activity, age, race, religion, employee opinions and participating in union sanctioned industrial action—are to remain firmly in place.

Unions still follow the process

Unions and union confederations seem to be ready to accept and agree to the newly reached consensus, as it changes practically nothing.

However, many are left wondering why such a political show was needed in the first place and stress that this is a shining example of bad legislation preparation. And this is something PM Juha Sipilä’s Government is well known for.

The SAK Board now recommends that their affiliated unions cancel all planned industrial action. The Industrial Union has announced it will do so, but the President Riku Aalto says that the Union will follow carefully how the proposal fares in Parliament.

JHL, the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors also agreed to call a halt to industrial action, for now. It stresses that union action got the Government to back off. And it calls on the Government to continue tripartite negotiations with respect to other labour legislation issues.

The Service Union United PAM has now cancelled all planned industrial action. The Union takes the view that the Employment Contracts Act should be seen as a whole and that there are no significant changes to come.

Petteri Oksa, the director of collective bargaining for the The Union of Professional Engineers in Finland IL sees the situation as a victory for making agreements and is satisfied with the consensus reached. No actual changes in practise but hopefully a better climate for future agreements instead of a quarrel.

Millariikka Rytkönen, the President of Tehy–The Union of Health and Social Care Professionals in Finland is more critical. She says that the basis on which the bill is being enacted is still problematic.

The text of the paragraph and the recitals for the bill are not in balance, she says. This creates a problem especially in branches of the labour market dominated by women.

The board of the Finnish Confederation of Professionals STTK will discuss the new bill on October 12. And STTK President Antti Palola says there has yet to be confirmation of the proposal.

Heikki Jokinen / Freelancer