Government offers concessions to unions over controversial firing rules

Unions will give their response to the new proposals on Friday, but it looks like they've secure some major concessions from the government.

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(L-R) Minister of Labour Jari Lindström (Blue), Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre), Finance Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP) give a press conference on 25.10.2018 / Credit: Government of Finland

Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre) has offered a new set of proposals to unions, to try and de-escalate an ongoing dispute that has seen tens of thousands of workers in different sectors stage industrial action.

This evening, after hours of meetings at the Prime Minister’s residence with union leaders, the PM, Finance Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP) and Minister of Labour Jari Lindström (Blue) put forward plans which amount to a major climb-down on the part of the government.

They’re now waiting for a response on Friday from unions.

The new propositions include a concession that takes into account the size and circumstances of each business when looking at redundancy plans.

Previously, the government had insisted they would make it easier for companies of up to 20 people to cut staff. The rationale was this would help smaller businesses be more flexible in their hiring practices. But unions said it cut job security from under the feet of employees.

Later, the government backtracked and said the new rules would only apply to companies with ten or fewer people.

The latest proposals do not make any mention of the specific size of the business, which will surely be seen as a win for the unions.

There’s also an offer on the table to reduce from 90 days to 60 days the time when an employer can fire an employee, when the reason is attributed to the worker. This applies to companies of all sizes.

“The last few days I’ve been working around the clock and met with dozens of representatives of social partners. I have listened to these meeting with an accurate ear to the messages that the trade union movement has sent about this matter” writes Sipilä in a blog post.

Unions disrupt with strike action

At the heart of the ongoing disputes over the Prime Minister’s new firing rules, is the way the government, employers and unions work together.

Traditionally in Finland, these three parties have negotiated together and come up with a workable consensus on any labour market reforms.

But after negotiating a ‘competitiveness pact’ at the beginning of his time in office, Prime Minister Sipilä has forged ahead with his own path of creating new proposals and pushing through legislation without the agreement of the unions, like the so-called ‘active model‘, that opponents say punishes people for being unemployed.

Angry at Sipilä’s plans to make it easier for smaller companies to fire people, various unions have staged strikes to try and force him to back down. These new proposals at least make it seem like the unions have the upper hand at the moment.