Striking postal workers: “We’re all at risk of losing our jobs, our livelihoods”

With a national postal strike that could continue until 8th December, workers say it would be a "catastrophe" to be forced to take a 50% pay cut.

Striking postal workers Tommi Uusitalo (L) and SoileLaine outside Posti headquarters, Helsinki, 12th November 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

Around two hundred striking postal workers gathered outside Posti’s Helsinki headquarters on Tuesday afternoon, many wearing the distinctive bright orange hats or vests of their employer.

They hoped the speeches and cheers from their protest might be heard by senior managers inside the building.

Finland’s state-owned postal company Posti wants to switch the collective bargaining agreement for parcel force workers from one union to another, a move which staff say would lead to weaker terms and conditions and pay cuts between 30% and 50%.

“Even if it’s cold weather like this, a lot of us are here and we will come back again if there is no positive outcome” says Lounes Melikechi an Algerian-born British national who has been working at Posti for 15 years.

Post and Logistics Union PAU says up to 10,000 postal workers are on strike, with services increasingly impacted around the country as the industrial action begins to bite.

Municipalities and service providers like electricity companies have let local residents know they’re unlikely to get letters and parcels or bills on time, and are making special arrangements for customers.

Postal workers on strike outside Posti HQ, Helsinki, 12th November 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

Negotiations: gulf between unions and employers

More negotiations are taking place on Wednesday between unions and employers, under the auspices of the national mediator, and if no agreement is found – the two sides are said to be far apart – then the strike will continue until 8th December.

Lounes Melikechi says these negotiations need to be fruitful, because the alternative is too high a price to pay.

“If it stays as it is, it’s bad news for us. We’re all at risk of losing our jobs, our livelihoods, but hopefully they will come to an agreement and we are all waiting to see what will happen” he tells News Now Finland.

Melikechi was joined at Tuesday’s protest by Tommi Uusitalo and Soili Laine who between them have 26 years of work experience at Posti.

“We’ll see what happens after today, and the negotiations, but after this if the situation doesn’t get better we really hope that we can get help from other unions. I think that’s very important to us” says Laine, who raises the prospect that industrial action could spread to other unions who might strike in solidarity with postal workers.

“We just want to do work and get the same salary like usual. But they want to take almost 50% or something off” he says.

The idea that the Posti workers aren’t demanding more money, but rather, demanding not to have a 50% pay cut forced on them, means the strike action has garnered public sympathy.

“I know normally people are against strikes. But now everyone is like, go ahead. Because if this goes through it’s not just the Posti workers, it’s everyone” who could have their collective bargaining agreement switched by their employer to a less favourable one, Laine explains.

“Everyone can be next. So the public is on our side” she adds.

Posti worker on strike Lounes Melikechi, Helsinki, 12th November 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

Melikechi says the Posti parcel workers are having their positions undercut by cheaper labour, at the expense of time-served employees.

“It’s very unfair having agency people coming to work on zero hours contracts. We have nothing against people coming to work but not when it’s cheaper labour and laying off people who have been working for five, ten, 15 years now” he explains.

All of them agree it would be extremely bad for their families to have to take a 50% pay cut.

Lounes Melikechi says he’d get paid more benefits money if he was unemployed, than earn 50% of his salary.

“My life would just be destroyed. I don’t know, it’s a catastrophe” says Soili Laine.

“For the whole family” Tommi Uusitalo chimes in.

“It’s too much. Absolutely too much.”

File picture of striking postal workers, Helsinki, 12th November 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland