Helsinki (11.11.2021 – Heikki Jokinen) Wednesday 10 November is the day the Finnish Tax Administration publishes all tax data from the year 2020. Each year this is a memorable event. The Finnish media was soon full of information on the incomes of top earners; business people, sportsmen, artists and even the most famous prisoners.
In Finland, detailed tax data is made public by law. Everyone has the right to know and see the income earned and tax paid by their fellow citizens. This openness is widely seen as a fundamental part of a democratic society.
It reveals what kind of work is rewarded, what is happening in business right now, and naturally, knowledge of income provides a background for discussion on equality in working life.
To make things easier for the media, every year the Tax Administration delivers a list of taxpayers earning more than 100,000 euro annually. So the media come out with a lot of articles on the income in various professions and regions and build up databases to compare tax data over several years.
The tax data day is such a big media event that in 2020 the Tax Administration changed the date for publishing this data to avoid it clashing with the day of the US presidential elections.
In 2019, the Tax Administration was faced with a predicament: a Finnish citizen asked them to drop his name from the top earners list that is given to the media. This demand was based on the EU law General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR. This restricts the use of peoples’ personal data.
The Tax Administration decided that the citizen in question was within his rights. In 2020, more than 4,000 people asked to have their name dropped from the list. However, one step ahead as usual, the media easily found their tax data as it is still public.
UPM’s Pesonen wants to hide
The media protested and after some court cases we are now in an interesting situation: The Tax Administration must delete requested names from their top earners list to the media. This year it included 2,332 names. But, the same Tax Administration is also required to publish a list of those who are deleted from the media list.
Of course, attempts to delete one’s name from the media list only brings these people more into the spotlight. One example is Jussi Pesonen, CEO of forestry giant UPM who earned 5.3 million euro last year.
This is relevant information for the collective bargaining in the company, especially when he has aggressively attacked the “too high” paper workers’ salaries and trade unions. Two other directors of UPM also tried to hide their tax data.
However, there are still several ways to hide income, like not taking an income from the company or by being registered abroad. Tax day reveals only what is taxable in Finland.
The economic newspaper Taloussanomat drafted a list of labour market organsation leaders’ tax data. On top was Jyri Häkämies, CEO of the employers’ EK, with an income of 378,000 euro. Jaakko Hirvola, CEO of the Technology Industries of Finland, earned 368,000 euro and Timo Jaatinen, CEO of the Forest Industries, 341,000 euro.
On the trade union side the Presidents of the trade union confederations earned less: Antti Palola, STTK, 266,000 euro, Sture Fjäder, Akava, 241,000 euro and Jarkko Eloranta, SAK, 218,000 euro.
The biggest corporate taxpayer was the German pharmaceutical giant Bayer. It is known for paying full corporate tax for their companies in Finland.