Minister backtracks on controversial firing rules, but unions still plan strike action

Despite some concessions from the government side, hundreds of thousands of workers plan to take part in industrial action on Wednesday.

File picture of Employment Minister Jari Lindström (Blue) / Credit: Finnish Government

Finland’s Employment Minister Jari Lindström (Blue) has backtracked on a plan to make it easier for companies with up to 20 employees to fire people if they need to.

The plan has angered unions and small business owners alike, and prompted a strike call which will see up to 300,000 Finnish workers taking part in industrial action on Wednesday.

Today, Lindström said the government will amend their plans, and lower the company size, to make it easier for businesses that employ up to ten people to fire workers if required.

“It’s hard to find a compromise if nobody participates” Lindström told journalists at a press conference.

“Our draft proposal was criticised for setting the limit too high at 20 persons, because the majority of Finnish companies employ fewer than 20 persons. The limit would have been high even by international standards. In Germany, for example, protection against dismissal is lower in enterprises with fewer than 10 employees” he says.

“We hope this proposal can start negotiations […] no agreement will happen if the parties don’t meet half way” Lindström added.

Reaction to the government’s plans

Finnish unions representing workers have taken a united stand in opposition to the government’s plans.

“We are with the other unions against the whole proposal, and think it should be withdrawn” says Päivi Niemi-Laine, President of welfare sector union JHL.

“There are so many things that have already weakened the position of employees in the last three and a half years […] conditions are being undermines, despite all the promises” she says.

Niemi-Laine says the new proposals aren’t just a concern for workers, they’re a concern for employers too.

“Small business owners have contacted us and said we are doing the right thing. They’re afraid of how difficult it is to get a good work force in the future if this dismissal rule comes into force. Entrepreneurs are afraid their employees will then go to [bigger] companies with better dismissal protection” she tells News Now Finland.

JHL members will join a 24 hour strike tomorrow, but they’re already taking part in an overtime ban which started earlier this week.

Some 100,000 workers are involved in the action, which affects all services provided by central or local government like health, schools, universities, police, road maintenance, day care, services for the elderly, government office services and libraries.

The union hasn’t set a time limit for how long the overtime ban will continue, but they say action that lasts just a few days rarely makes an impact.

Political reaction to the new proposal

There has inevitably been political pushback on the proposals as well from the opposition.

Left Alliance leader Li Andersson wrote on Twitter that the criticism of the proposed new laws had been that the size of the company determined the employee’s job security.

However, she saw little change after Minister Lindström’s latest proposals.

“The government has now decided to put forward a ‘compromise’ solution in which the size of the company determines the employee’s job security”

And Andersson had some unlikely support from the other side of the political aisle.

The Chair of the National Coalition Party Youth group Henrik Vuornos calls the government’s plans a “cardinal mistake”.

“This is angering both entrepreneurs and unions” he says.