Negotiations to reform the labour market bargaining system broke down after more than one year of work. The trade unions say the reason for this was the employers’ determination to focus solely on the issue of raising fines imposed for illegal strikes in spite of the many other issues on the table.
The national pact for employment and growth in September 2013 included a decision to set up a working group to assess the effectiveness and need for reform of the current bargaining system. Negotiations were held between trade union confederations and employers’ organisations.
”The review shall focus particularly on the binding character of collective agreements, on compliance with such agreements, and on the sanctions incurred by various parties for breach of agreement. An assessment shall also be made of ways of improving the conciliation system and dispute resolution procedure, and of implementing wage increases in industries that are not covered by an agreement”, the agreement declares.
In other words, on the negotiation table were issues like negotiations concerning avoidance of illegal strikes, the status of shop stewards and underpaying.
Illegal strikes can be defined as strikes, which occur while a collective agreement is in force. These are typically spontaneous walkouts from the work place due to announcements of staff cutbacks, or perceived attacks by employers against workers or shop stewards’ rights.
The Confederation of Finnish Industries EK came out strongly in favour of increasing the fines imposed for such strikes. At the moment the maximum fine a trade union has to pay for an illegal strike is 30 000 euro. EK would like to see a six-fold in this, bringing it up to 180 000 euro.
Employers had only one thing in mind
SAK, the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions viewed the goals of the employers as unrealistic.
“Underpaying, the position of shop stewards, spontaneous demonstrations when faced with personnel cutbacks and developing the negotiation process are all important for the average working person and we offered several solutions towards this end”, the SAK board says.
It was a disappointment for SAK that the employers did not use the opportunity to reform the system to the benefit of everybody but instead put forward totally unrealistic goals.
“The employees have been the active side in these negotiations”, SAK chairperson Lauri Lyly says. “The employers have had only one issue on the table – the amount that should be imposed for strike fines.”
The executive board of the Finnish Confederation of Professionals STTK expressed a similar opinion. It said the negotiations ended due to the employers’ lack of realism.
“Wage and salary earners negotiated with the aim of building a genuine development of the bargaining system. Of utmost importance is the need to promote mutual trust at the local level between employees and employers. Disturbances can be minimised by influencing the reasons behind industrial actions well in advance”, STTK says.
Akava, the Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff in Finland was also disappointed. “Wage and salary earners were ready to make compromises, but the employers were not even willing to discuss ways to diminish their own illegal actions”, says Akava chairperson Sture Fjäder.
The trade union confederations were ready to agree to a slight increase in strike fines if the employers had been flexible in some areas employees deem important.
The employers’ confederation EK said the reason behind the end to negotiations was that EK and the trade union confederations did not share a common view on how serious the situation of the Finnish economy is.
Helsinki (19.02.2015 – Heikki Jokinen)