All three trade union confederations are calling on people to attend a major demonstration against the austerity measures and plans to limit freedom of agreement decided by the Finnish Government. The demonstration will take place at the Helsinki Railway Station Square on Friday 18 September. Many unions have already started to organise participation. Some unions have say they will stop working during the demonstration and are calling it a political strike.
Public transport including harbours will be widely disrupted and daycare centres partly closed. The Paper Workers’ Union will stop production at the paper mills for 24 hours.
The burning issue is not only the austerity measures but also the limits Government is planning to introduce regarding the right of labour market organisations to make their own agreements.
Up until now the legislation set minimum limits for what can be agreed upon, now Government wants to stipulate maximum limits in certain cases. This turns the logic of labour legislation upside down. Existing legislation is designed to protect the weaker party, employees. Now the Government wants to protect the interests of employers by law.
Confederations are ready to negotiate
”We are out to defend those who are the weakest”, say the three trade union confederation chairpersons Sture Fjäder of Akava, Lauri Lyly of SAK and Antti Palola of STTK.
Sture Fjäder stresess that Akava has always been willing to negotiate on how to improve the Finnish economy. It’s always better to agree than to make a quarrel, he says.
”That Akava was the first confederation to ask its member unions to raise readyness for industrial actions is a serious message”, Fjäder says. Because the Government is limiting freedom of agreement by legislation, Akava is joining the demonstration.
Antti Palola also speaks in favour of negotiations and agreement. Questions of prestige should now be forgotten and one should be reasonable, he says. ”It makes sense to negotiate, not to set people against each other and thus create more unrest in the labour market and in society.”
The Board of SAK also emphasise their willingness to negotiate on how to boost the Finnish economy. The forced measures of the Government do not help to continue the moderate pay rise policy we have seen in recent years, the SAK board is afraid.
Behind the Government austerity measures and limiting the freedom of agreement are the failed tripartite negotiations in August for a so called social contract.
Antti Palola says that now he understands why the employers’ organisation EK was totally unwilling to even discuss trade union confederation proposals in connection with the social contract. ”The employers knew, or just calculated what they would get if they refuse to negotiate.”
Sture Fjäder agrees, saying the goals of trade union movement were not even discussed in August. The employers did not come up with their own proposal at all. ”It was at no stage a genuine negotiation.”
Read also: Government hits hard against freedom of agreement with their new legislation for cuts (11.09.2015)
Helsinki (16.09.2015 – Heikki Jokinen)