The right to strike is under attack across the world. Unions in Finland are fighting back.
Finland’s trade unions are mobilising against the new right-wing coalition government’s plan to unilaterally cut pay and benefits negotiated through collective bargaining, and are asking for solidarity and support.
The assault on Finnish unions comes as part of a worldwide crack down on union rights, as the rich try to force ordinary people to pay for the financial crisis. Unions are the most significant obstacle to this.
At the G20 meeting in Toronto in 2010, the world’s rich nations – lead by host Stephen Harper, Merkel and Cameron – agreed to a coordinated policy of austerity to force the cost of the financial crisis onto the public.
Destroying the bargaining power of unions is an essential part of this process. Earlier this year, workers’ representatives at the ILO fought off a concerted, two year struggle by employers’ groups to undermines the right to strike.
In the UK, the Conservative Party is pushing through a Trade Union Bill that will severely limit the right to strike, facilitate scabbing, force striking workers to report themselves to the police, and require unions to give two weeks’ notice of anything they intend to post on social media.
With 75% union density, Finland has one of the highest levels of unionisation in the world – and consequently, one of the lowest levels of inequality.
On September 9, after unions in Finland rejected the proposals, the government announced a series of measures to be legislated and imposed as collective agreements begin to expire next year.
These include substantial reductions in compensation for overtime, weekend and night work, no compensation for the first day of employee sickness and reductions in sick pay for days 2-9, reducing and limiting annual leave to 30 days (5 weeks is the norm in many sectors) and the elimination of two national holidays, which would become working days or unpaid holidays.
Unions estimate that the impact would be a 4-6% reduction in pay, with the impact falling hardest on the most vulnerable, including part-time and women workers.
Members of SAK, Akava and STTK union federations will demonstrate at Helsinki Railway Station Square on Friday 18 September from 11 a.m.
The demonstration is in defence of unions’ right to determine collective agreements and in opposition to the government’s unilateral decisions to weaken employees’ terms of employment. On Tuesday the government announced changes including forced restrictions to annual holiday entitlement, an unpaid sick leave waiting day, turning weekday holidays into days without pay and cuts to overtime and Sunday work compensation.
The chairmen of the trade union confederations stress that employees cannot accept the government’s coercive measures. The government is not respecting employees’ and employers’ right to determine labor costs and other terms of employment. It is also threatening to breach the internationally recognized principle that the law primarily protects the weaker party.
The hotel, restaurant and catering union NU HRCT urges all trade unions to send messages of solidarity and support in their fight to defeat this anti-union legislation.
In addition to the demonstration, you can make a stand by signing an online petition.
The social media hashtag for the union demonstration is #STOP.
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