Unions suspend industrial action after Government backs off on bill to ease dismissals

Trade unions have interrupted their ongoing acts of industrial action to negotiate with the Finnish Government on their new proposal for labour market legislation.
30.10. 09:30
SAK
The SAK Executive Board discussed the new Government proposal on Friday 26 October. Photo: Patrik Lindström

The conflict between the right-wing Government and trade union movement had escalated steadily this autumn. The unions have insisted all along that they do not accept the Government plan to ease individual dismissals in small companies.

In spite of this PM Juha Sipilä was determined to press ahead with the legislation and showed extremely limited willingness to negotiate with the labour market organisations. This led to a growing number of incidents of industrial action by way of protest against the planned legislation, first with overtime and shift swap bans and then in October short strikes in several sectors.

Now the Government has backed off and proposed a set of measures to the trade unions on which to negotiate. The unions have responded by interrupting the ongoing and planned industrial action measures and said they are ready to negotiate.

The new proposal would rewrite the dismissal paragraphs on labour law in a way that corresponds more or less to existing court practise and drop the exact size of the company as one of the criteria for easier dismissals.

The Government also calls on unions to negotiate changes in their so called activation model, which have been cutting unemployment benefits of many unemployed people. This rule has been criticised vociferously by trade unions.

Will it be real tripartite negotiations?

The trade unions and trade union confederations responses said that the new proposal includes some elements the unions has been demanding. They stressed, however, that they need to consider first the general outline of legislation and basis on which it is being enacted to see what the proposal means in practice. These are important when courts interpret legislation.

All three trade union confederations SAK, Akava and STTK clearly stated that the basis on which legislation is being enacted must be written on a tripartite basis. They believe that in a real tripartite process the turbulent situation in the labour market will become normal again.

Whether the Government is genuinely ready for this is still a bit open. PM Sipilä claims he has already had tripartite negotiations on the issue. 

Jarkko Eloranta, President of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions SAK has described the same process as "two unofficial meetings, where you get ready written paragraphs". This does not in any way amount to tripartite negotiation, he says.

As the situation and way to continue is still open the unions have clearly said they will suspend acts of industrial action, but not formally cancel them. All the unions involved have interrupted their protest measures in this respect.

The negotiations on the Government proposal will begin this week.

Heikki Jokinen / Freelancer