Strike wave sweeps Finland

Senate Square, Helsinki

Finland is experiencing its worst outbreak of industrial unrest for a generation after relations between the right-leaning government coalition and powerful trade unions collapsed over wage negotiations.

The Financial Times reports:

Strikes have either broken out or are threatened in industries spanning the economy, affecting some 40,000 workers in core areas including shipping, forestry, postal services and steel.

In the most serious development, 12,800 nurses have decided to resign en masse next month if their demands for a 25 per cent wage increase over the next two years are not met.

Finland’s political situation shifted to the right in elections last March, after the conservative National Coalition party, led by Jyrki Katainen, formed a coalition government with the Centre party of Matti Vanhanen, the prime minister.

Guy Ahonen, a professor at Helsinki’s School of Economics and an expert on the labour market, attributed the outbreak of unrest to the new government’s alterations to the way wages are negotiated.

The government has attempted to make the wage negotiation system more flexible and efficient by having unions negotiate with employers individually, as opposed to the traditional system of co-operative bargaining agreements.

“It is a core issue for the government as they view collective agreements as a sign of centrally-planned economy,” Prof Ahonen said.

Marja-Karina Koskinen, a leader of the nurses’ Union of Health and Social Care Professionals, said her members’ salaries had been abused as a result of a law that requires them to provide medical services even when on strike. Many nurses now had to work double shifts nearly everyday to make ends meet.

Hospitals are devising emergency plans to hire temporary workers and reschedule low-priority treatment ahead of the proposed November 19 resignation date.

“The government is saying we are threatening patients’ safety,” said Ms Koskinen. “Of course we are.”

The Finnish government declined to comment.

Posted By

Joseph Kay
Oct 26 2007 10:38

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