#SeriousGrounds is a cry of alarm from the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) and its affiliated unions on behalf of employees and the unemployed. We have expressed our concern in many ways about the devastating impact on employees and the unemployed of the cuts that were announced in the Government Programme last spring. These concerns have fallen on deaf ears, so we have to apply other means to ensure that workers are heard.
Most of the cuts and losses of rights are already in preparation. The Orpo-Purra Government is seeking to implement them within a year.
The Government is planning many major changes in labour law, the right to strike and social welfare. The changes in labour law and the right to strike will exclusively benefit employers, and not their employees. The particular victims of social welfare cuts will be people on low incomes, part-time and casual employees, and the unemployed.
The Government has tried to justify these cuts on economic grounds, but undermining the status of employees will have no significant impact on the Finnish economy. Instead these measures are motivated by certain general attitudes and values.
Cuts in unemployment benefit are supposed to save costs and boost employment, but many claimants face difficulties in entering the job market due to inappropriate skills, health problems, or a lack of full-time work in the industry for which they are skilled. The cuts will push these claimants into a wide variety of alternative benefit schemes, with a significant risk of falling into poverty.
We want the Orpo-Purra Government to reconsider the impact of its policies on employees, and on the unemployed and their families. It could begin by reviewing the combined impacts of various measures on people in individual circumstances, and engaging in genuine dialogue with employee representatives about changes in the world of work and social welfare.
The Orpo-Purra Government has already begun preparing many proposals to undermine working conditions, cut social welfare and restrict the right to strike. The Government is already seeking to introduce a major segment of these losses and cuts within a year. For example, some of the cuts in unemployment benefit are already scheduled to take effect at the start of 2024.
We have been forced to take this action, because the Orpo-Purra Government is not listening to the legitimate concerns of workers. The tripartite working groups set up by the Government are largely a pretence at consultation, because the Government has already determined the outcome in advance. No other government has behaved in this way for decades.
We are not opposing the employers. These employee demonstrations are resistance to proposals from the Orpo-Purra Government that would unreasonably weaken job security, drastically cut social welfare, and restrict the right to strike. They will involve walkouts in some types of work, which will disrupt the operations of businesses. Such disruptions are an aspect of a right to political industrial action that is protected under the Finnish Constitution and in international treaties.
We are not opposed to the Government as such, but to its proposals to impair the rights and cut the benefits of employees and the unemployed. The Government Programme is essentially unbalanced: including numerous proposals to damage the status of employees, while saying nearly nothing about the duties of an employer. We are calling for the Government to make its policy more employee-friendly, and to initiate genuine dialogue with employee representatives about changes that will affect the world of work.
We support the right of people to influence their governance through democratic means, but democracy also involves enabling people to take a stand on policymaking between elections. A democracy always empowers individuals, the trade union movement and other civic organisations, businesses and public bodies to express their views on the proposals of policymakers, and to resist those proposals by more vigorous demonstrations where necessary.
While the inconvenience caused by industrial action to employers and the public is regrettable, it will also be minimal and brief in comparison to the impact of changes planned by the Orpo-Purra Government, many of which will increase unemployment. Such measures as abolishing the protected portions of unemployment benefit and housing allowance will significantly reduce the incentive for part-time employees to increase their working time. The Government proposal to tighten tax relief for commuting by car and to end loan financing for building right-of-occupancy housing will also damage employment.
Of course we have. SAK and the trade unions work continuously to defend employees, both at workplaces and nationally. This work is continuing at all levels. The cuts and losses of rights proposed by the Orpo-Purra Government are narrowly focused on those employees, and would hamper the realisation of employee rights. That’s why we are doing everything we can to prevent their implementation.
We are prepared to expand our actions if the Orpo-Purra Government fails to make its policy more employee-friendly and launch genuine dialogue with employee representatives about changes that will affect the world of work. SAK and the trade unions exist to defend the interests of employees.