Municipal sector negotiations deadlocked

Collective bargaining in the municipal sector is increasingly becoming more complicated and difficult. All negotiations have failed so far.

In February, the nurses’ unions Tehy and Super issued a demand for a five-year pay programme. This would raise nurses’ salaries annually by 3.6 per cent over the next 5 years on top of the standard pay increase.

The main reason behind this programme is the major shortage of nurses in social and health care. Better pay would make the work more attractive.

Other unions for the municipal sector echoed these demands on the same grounds – without a real pay rise the labour shortage throughout the municipal sector will only get worse.

In May, several strikes followed as a result of this in the major cities. Collective bargaining yielded no result.

May 10, the conciliation committee set up by Tuula Haatainen, the Minister of Employment, came up with a proposal. It included extra pay for all 425,000 municipal sector collective agreement employees, but less than the nurses’ unions demanded.

The proposal was to raise pay by approximately one percentage point on top of the standard pay increase every year for five years.

But Tehy – The Union of Health and Social Care Professionals in Finland and Super – the Finnish Union of Practical Nurses did not accept the proposal. These unions saw that the conciliation committee did not realise quite how burning the issue the shortage of nurses actually is. Other unions involved accepted the proposal and continued negotiation towards an agreement.

A possible regional deal

May 17, the regional Kanta-Häme Hospital District decided to start separate collective bargaining with Tehy and Super to guarantee industrial peace and functioning of their services. The lack of nurses is so severe that they have been forced to close some services. Tehy and Super said yes to the negotiations.

May 20, JHL and Jyty unions – both unions of the municipal sector collective agreement – announced a two-day strike in the Kanta-Häme Hospital District to protest that the district will begin separate negotiations only with the nurses’ unions. The unions demanded to be invited to the negotiations, too.

May 23, the negotiations for a national level pay deal without nurses failed. According to the public broadcaster Yle, the reason for this was that the negotiating unions required an extra clause saying that in case the nurses’ unions should get a better deal later, the other unions should get the same. The employers did not accept this.

May 24, nurses’ unions announced that the negotiations with the Kanta-Häme Hospital District will not continue. According to Tehy and Super, the reason for this was opposition from other municipal sector unions, “which demanded the same pay rise for doctors and other staff, though the purpose of the deal was to resolve the shortage of nurses”.

Municipal employers’ association KT also opposed regional solutions and did not give permission for it. KT even called the idea for a separate deal illegal.

Tensions between unions

All this has created tensions between the unions representing municipal employees. Tehy and Super Presidents claimed that other unions in the municipal sector seems to try to get a free ride on the side of the nurses’ unions.

Päivi Niemi-Laine, President of JHL, the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors, was worried, that due to the deadlock of the negotiations, employees lose money every month. The old agreement terminated in the end of February, and the raises will not be paid retroactively, she says.

Kristian Karrasch, JHL Director of Public Sector Collective Bargaining, reminded that JHL has thousands of members working in health and social care. JHL will not set professionals in various jobs against each other, but look for a solution on how to get all municipal employees a pay to respond the requirements of the job. He advises continuing together on the basis of the conciliation committee proposal.

Without a new pay deal, Finland might face a wave of municipal strikes after the summer holidays.

Helsinki (02.06.2022 – Heikki Jokinen)

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