Finland: Thirty thousand unionists defended negotiation rights in Finland


According to OAJ, ETUCE Member organisation in Finland, last Friday was an extraordinary day for the Finnish trade union movement. Probably more than thirty thousand trade unionists gathered in Helsinki to defend existing negotiation rights. The three trade union federation SAK,STTK and AKAVA called their members to take to the streets for a huge demonstration.

Despite the heavy rain, a huge crowd of committed trade unionists followed the call waiting for explanations from those political parties who have been behind the current plans to infringe the negotiations rights. The teacher union OAJ as the biggest union in AKAVA was in the front line of the demonstration. Here, the federation showed the yellow card to the government. “The red card is still in our back pocket but we hope we won’t need to show it”, said OAJ chairman and AKAVA vice chairman Olli Luukkainen.

The action took place against the background of a programme which the new government had announced after last year’s election. It suggested severe budget cuts to the public sector and the need for a social agreement between the trade unions, the employers and the government. The government asked for 5 % reduction of labour costs. When the proposal failed,  the government announced to put the proposal into effect by law and with the utmost  rigour avoiding negotiations.

For the trade unions this was the end of the story. In Finland, social dialogue and achieved negotiation rights used to be regarded as sacred.  With its latest attempt to touch upon existing rights the government has gone one step too far. Luukainen criticised that “it is not about real negotiations when the government decided in advance on the result. This was the main reason for the rejection of the social agreement. There has to be real dialog and trust between all the partners which was the reason for the Finnish success story. This must remain the way for a good future.” At the same time Luukainen also emphasised that “this demonstration was not against the employer since all agreement between the trade unions and the employers are still valid. It was about a major defence of existing negotiation rights. We really are aware of Finland’s weak economy. However, this is not the way we can solve the problems. The government’s attempt to brush aside the trade unions’ right to negotiate is a move that  we cannot accept at all. Also, the foreseen programme would mostly affect the public sector and certain professions such as the early childhood education teachers and other professions in which women predominantly work. As a matter of fact, it is not the low paid female workers such as the teachers who will solely be able to save the economy of Finland.

In Finland mass demonstrations as the one last week seldomly take place. It has been more than twenty years since the trade unions took to the streets. The event opened the floor to speakers from all political parties. As a result of the day, Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä is expecting the trade unions to come up with suggestions at the end of the month. The three trade union federations have started to jointly work on a proposal to the government. “It is time to return to the negotiation table”, said Luukkainen, “We cannot find solutions if the trade unions stay out in the streets while the employers and the government are in the building.

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