Labour disputes increasingly involve police
Finnish employers and labour unions calling for police investigations into walkouts and lockouts
Labour unions and employers are increasingly willing to react to walkouts, lockouts, and other forms of industrial action, by asking for a police investigation or by initiating legal proceedings against each other.
Such cases have been fairly rare so far, but there are fears taht the phenomenon could become more common.
”At any rate, they have not declined. We have started from the assumption that whenever illegal strikes or a mere threat of such a strike causes damage, we will take the matter to court”, says Jari Forss, Deputy Director General of the Finnish Forest Industries Federation, who is in charge of collective bargaining in the organisation.
Executive Vice President Risto Alanko, head of the Department of Labour Market Policy in the Federation of Finnish Technology Industries, thinks along the same lines.
”If a strike is launched in violation of a commitment to industrial peace, and a conscious failure to follow a collective agreement is noticed, we will seek to start legal proceedings in the matter almost without exception”, Alanko notes.
The management side will use a cannon to fight against short protests, says Director Nikolas Elomaa of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK).
”Previously, for example walkouts could be settled in one way or another without attacking the leaders of the organisations. Now employers are using radical methods which have no place in this game”, Elomaa argues.
Last autumn, Antti Rinne, chairman of the trade union of private sector salaried employees Pro was punished by a fine for industrial action taken to speed up negotiations a couple of years ago.
Currently, six companies belonging to the Federation of Finnish Technology Industries are seeking more than EUR 0.5 million in damages from Rinne for the same offence.
”Employers clearly tend to think that if a union leader can be convicted of a crime in a criminal process, it will also be possible to claim compensation for a criminal procedure from this person. This is a disagreeable practice”, Elomaa says.
”If we wish to achieve genuine settlements in labour disputes, they cannot be taken to court”, he adds.
All employees must obey the existing laws, Forss insists.
”Because of illegal strikes and threats to go on strike customers get worried, creating an image of an unreliable supplier”, Forss argues.
When mere talk or negotiations are of no avail, a strike is the only remedy, says Markku Palokangas, Director of Industrial Sector at the Trade Union Pro.
”Eighty to ninety per cent of all walkouts are a consequence of the employer’s awkward conduct, but verdicts never take this fact into consideration”, Palokangas points out.
According to Palokangas, it has been a tradition within the Finnish Forest Industries Federation and the Federation of Finnish Technology Industries that every minor breach is taken to the Finnish Labour Court - and today to a district court.
”No such tradition exists in the chemical or food processing industries, for example”, Palokangas adds.
In June, when the parties to the Finnish labour market launch a debate on possible measures to increase mutual trust, the issue of the limits of strike is likely to be involved. The matter was agreed upon last autumn, and an agreement is expected to be concluded in November 2012.
In the employers’ view, the rules governing employees’ right to strike should also be included in the agenda. At least the issue of weakening the right to strike will not be discussed, employees reply.
Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK)
Trade Union Pro
Finnish Forest Industries
Federation of Finnish Technology Industries