It looks like a general strike is almost on the books here in Finland. The trade unions are threatening to go on a 2-week strike that will affect the forest & paper sector, the fuel distribution sector for vehicles and planes, the chemical sector and many other businesses here.
It is still unsure how many workers will be involved but it is expected that it will include around 40 000 men and women in key parts of the economy starting at the end of January.
The unions claim that they had agreed with the employers to bury an agreement made a few years ago to work for “3 days without pay” to improve Finland’s competitive position in the export markets. The Finnish export sector accounts for some 40% of GDP and things get tough if labour costs are too high and productivity lower than our main competitors like Germany and Sweden.
However, relative labour costs have improved this last year and a new round of collective bargaining was agreed the other week between the employers and employee unions, until the bosses announced that they had not agreed to bury the “3 days without pay” agreement!
Now the employers are talking about €600 million in costs if the strike goes ahead and all because they appear not to know exactly what was agreed. You can be sure that every newspaper carried stories when the new agreement was announced including references to the removal of the “3 days without pay”!
Trade unions have managed to secure an important and influential position in Finland just like the employers who also have a powerful unions with an extensive and influential lobby in political circles.
The last financial crisis, trade sanctions and Finland’s dependence on open global markets, without a big domestic market means that selling exports has got harder. Different political parties have spoken about reforming the labour markets but strikes and other industrial action have resulted in very little reform.
The employers occasionally take to the battle field but they also know that pushing too hard can hurt their interests.
The present tense atmosphere here in Helsinki today is a result of rash actions and recriminations rather than a conciliatory attempt by both sides to find a reasonable solution.
The unions, on both sides, appear to be acting as if they are political animals. The government has remained outside this dispute, but the country will suffer serious economical loss if the strike goes ahead. Both sides need to grow up and come to an agreement… Trumpian behaviour is not acceptable here.