‘Everyone swallows a little pride’ as unions agree to government’s watered-down employment proposals

The latest proposals should mean that strike actions come to an end, although individual unions will decide that for themselves.

SAK board of directors talks to the media on 26.10.2018 / Credit: Patrik Lindström, SAK

Finland Interior Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP) says that “everyone has had to swallow a bit of pride” after the country’s largest trade union umbrella groups accepted the government’s watered-down proposals on employment rights, in a bid to stop any more strikes.

On Thursday evening, the government coalition put forward their latest set of proposals on employment reform. A particular red line for unions was a plan to make it easier for smaller businesses to fire staff.

Unions felt so strongly about the issue that tens of thousands of workers in different sectors had taken part in industrial action over the last few weeks. But on Friday umbrella trade union organisations representing their member unions, accepted the watered-down proposals presented by the government.

It means industrial action over these particular issues should come to an end, although it is up to individual unions to make their own decisions on that.

“It’s great that in this difficult situation we could trust each other for the common good. I would like to thank the union organisations for agreeing to the offer” wrote Orpo, the National Coalition Party Chairman.

One of the largest unions PAM, which represents service workers across Finland, gives the new proposals a cautious welcome.

“The new proposals are better than the current legal text, and according to estimates it would mainly strengthen existing practices. However, the discussions are still open and we expect them to be tripartite” involving the government, and unions representing workers and employers, says PAM Chairperson Ann Selin.

Government’s new proposals to unions

Originally, 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 new propositions include a concession that takes into account the size and circumstances of each business when looking at redundancy plans, but don’t make any mention of the specific size of the business, which will surely be seen as a win for the unions.

Unions also agree to the government’s offer to reduce from 90 days to 60 days, during which time an employer can fire an employee, when the reason is attributed to the worker. This applies to companies of all sizes.