The new controversial Patient Security Act limits the right to strike

The deadlock in nurses’ collective bargaining led to a new law restricting the right to strike and has caused serious friction in the Government.

Tehy and Super, the nurses’ unions, announced five limited strikes in intensive care units and home care, to begin in September. This did not speed up the collective bargaining process, instead the employers asked the courts to outlaw strikes.

The Helsinki District Court promptly accepted requests from three hospital districts to delay the nurses’ strikes at hospital intensive care units, but not in regard to home care. The reason for this ruling was the great risk to patients, and possibility of fatalities.

Unions announced they would abide by the court decision – which was peppered with one million euro penalty fines for each strike for both unions should they begin strikes. This would amount to six million euro altogether.

In spite of the ongoing collective bargaining and the court decision Aki Lindén, the social democratic Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services, continued to push forward the Patient Safety Act. This would restrict the right to strike in the health care sector in cases where the life of patients is in danger. Linden has spent a large part of his career as a CEO of health care districts, which are the nurses’ employers.

Draft amended in Parliament

In the five-party Government the Left Alliance was critical of the proposed law. The party understood that there is a need to guarantee the right to life in any situation, but that the proposal from Minister Lindén was too broad.

For some days, this question created quite a friction in the Government. Finally, Parliament’s Social Affairs and Health Committee made some important changes in the draft giving the Left Alliance the possibility to accept it.

The draft becomes much more precise when defining when it can be used, is valid only at the end of January 2023 and can only be used as a last resort after the parties have negotiated on all ways of not causing fatal danger to patients.

Also, the proposed right to order penalty payments for single nurses joining the strike, was dropped. If a nurse is forced to work due to this law, he or she will get 1.3 times the normal salary.

The Finnish Parliament adopted the law on 16 September with broad support from right to left.

Mass resignation plans

Surprisingly enough, many unions did not comment on the law at all, probably because the new law does not concern their field of work or because the unions belong to other confederations than Tehy and Super. These are members of STTK, the Finnish Confederation of Professionals.

Antti Palola, STTK President, said that the STTK board opposed the new law. Coercive legislation is no solution for preventing legal industrial actions in any field, he said.

Jorma Malinen, President of Trade Union Pro, was afraid this law could have even more far-reaching consequences. He stressed that the parties must agree on how not to set human life in danger.

JHL, the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors, is one of the few SAK confederation members to comment on the draft law in public. It criticised the draft on many issues that were later amended in Parliament. JHL also stresses that this kind of legislation should not become an automatic measure when collective bargaining is difficult.

Tehy – The Union of Health and Social Care Professionals in Finland and Super – the Finnish Union of Practical Nurses say that they are now considering mass resignations of nursing staff as the next step.

With the constant shortage of nurses, it could be a powerful weapon at their disposal. This measure was used successfully in 2007. Back then, more than 12,000 nurses were ready to resign, and a pay deal was reached.

Helsinki 19.09.2022 – Heikki Jokinen

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