Deal reached over Alko strike: stores to open this afternoon
Strike threat brought weekend feel to Wednesday sales
The two sides in the dispute involving staff at outlets of the state-run retail liquor monopoly Alko reached agreement this morning [Thursday], and accepted the second offer put on the table by district labour conciliator Esa Lonka.
The 321 Alko stores up and down the country, which remained closed this morning, are expected to open their doors later in the day. Technically, the Alko staff were on strike from midnight last night.
Negotiations to avert a stoppage began in the State Conciliator's Office at 5pm on Wednesday and lasted for almost 18 hours before a deal could be struck.
The Alko staff dispute revolved around salary increases and improvements to the rights and conditions of part-time staff and those on fixed-term contracts.
Around 2,000 employees were involved in the stoppage. The employees' side had accused the employers of attempting to weaken the working conditions of staff, while the employers saw their moves as a means of increasing flexibility in working hours, in order that stores would have staff at the times when customer flows are greatest - in other words, after normal working hours and on Saturdays. Most Alko outlets are nowadays open until 8 p.m. on weekdays.
In terms of working conditions, the deal negotiated between Alko and the two unions involved is basically in line with the central collective bargaining agreement worked out last autumn, but salary increases go slightly above the norm. The employees' side expressed satisfaction with improvements in the position of part-time staff, who represent around 70% of all store personnel, while the employers noted that greater flexibility in working-hours had been accepted by staff.
Alko stores, which are the only means for Finns to buy over-the-counter wines and spirits, were last closed owing to strike action in 1972 and 1985, when the famous long-handled doors remained closed for five weeks.
Had the strike lasted longer on this occasion, it would still not have affected the availability of alcohol from bars and restaurants, and beers and ciders up to a certain strength are available from supermarkets.
The retail monopoly enjoyed by the Alko stores has been the subject of some debate, with retail interest groups calling for the dismantling of the monopoly such that supermarkets would be able to sell wines and spirits.
Panic-buying was not greatly in evidence in the Alkos on Wednesday, although many stores did report that sales were closer to the normal Friday level than for a standard midweek day.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Fate of Alko strike to be determined today (2.3.2005)
Retail organization calls on EU to dismantle Alko monopoly (3.2.2005)