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Employers Union: 100% of unions must be on board for new labour deal

Kotimaa
 
David Mac Dougall
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Employers Union: 100% of unions should be on board for new labour deal
The Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) says all unions must agree to a proposed plan to reform the labour market, before a deal can finally be made. Longer hours. Less money. Better economy? How will the new proposals to reform working life affect you? This week on Newsmakers, Markus Äimälä from EK talks about the next steps to improving Finland's competitiveness, and how all the unions in the country should sign up to the plans before they can become a reality.

The Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) says all unions must agree to a proposed plan to reform the labour market, before a deal can finally be made.

Speaking on HSTV's English-language current affairs show Newsmakers, EK representative Markus Äimälä says that with several high profile trades unions not on board with the new proposals, it would be "impossible" to continue talks and hopefully have a fully realised agreement in place in June.

"SAK's board made a decision this week, and part of the trade union member organisations said 'no' to this agreement, and what EK Is saying, is that first we have to have all the trade unions [...] we want 100% on board"

SAK, the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions, said this week it would present the so-called 'Competitiveness Pact' again to its members for a fresh round of collective bargaining. In return, they want the Finnish government to cancel €1.5 billion in budget cuts and tax increases.

"Finland needs employment and public investment that encourages investment in the private sector as well" writes SAK President Lauri Lyly in a statement. "The business community and the government are responsible for making this happen" he adds.

EK's Markus Äimälä explains that the three headline provisions in the deal are longer working hours - "the yearly working time is extended by 24 hours, so roughly three working days"; a freeze in wages for a year - "we hope to increase our competitiveness compared to other countries"; and a change in social security contributions - "employees pay a little bit higher contributions [...] and then employers, the companies, pay a litttle bit more" he explains.

"The big question is, is it [the deal] good enough?" asks Äimälä.

His organisation, and the Finnish government, had initially called for tougher measures to be put in place to reform Finnish labour practices and help increase the country's competitiveness compared with it's main regional rivals.

But there was a public outcry - and a union backlash in the form of industrial action - when such plans as not paying people the first day they get sick, or reducing holiday entitlement, were first mooted. EK would also have liked to lengthen the working year by more than the 24 hours which is now being agreed on.

While Äimälä concedes that the current watered-down deal would not cancel out an estimated 10-15% competitiveness gap between Finland and Sweden or Germany, he says it would "narrow that gap by about 4%".

"This is maybe not a giant leap forward, but it's a step to the right direction, and we have to continue during the coming years to make additional measures to further enhance our competitiveness" says Äimälä.

Unit labour costs - which the OECD describes as being how much output an economy receives relative to wages - should in theory decrease if the new proposals are enacted. "And that helps Finnish companies" says Äimälä.

Looking forward, there is now a period of discussion during the spring when EK can talk to their member companies, who in turn employ a million people in Finland. At the same time, the trade union umbrella organisation SAK will talk to its member unions to smooth out any last hurdles in the agreement. SAK will also hope to get some of the larger unions who are so far opposed to the plan, to sign up. These include union PAM which says the proposals in their current form would impose a 'heavy burden' on workers. PAM represents 230,000 shop assistants, cleaners, security guards, hairdressers, and hospitality and catering staff, among others working in the private sector service industries.

Transport workers union AKT, which represents 50,000 people, is also not yet on board with the proposals, and Markus Äimälä from the Confederation of Finnish Industries warns that it is crucial to get this union in particular on-side.

"We try to bring stability, we try to bring industrial peace to Finland" explains Äimälä. "Traditionally, if workers from the transport sector are not on board with the agreement, then there might be industrial action, strikes in the transport sector, which means in the worst case scenario, whole of Finland paralyses.”

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