Conflict between organized labor, Finnish government escalates

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HELSINKI, Oct. 5 (Xinhua) — Tension between organized labor and the center-right coalition government over a plan to make dismissals easier in small companies in Finland showed no sign of relaxation towards the end of the week.

A one-day political strike brought major industries to standstill on Wednesday. As the next move, the transport workers union announced on Friday that stevedors in harbors and airline flight attendants would join an overtime ban next Monday.

Business sources told local media that some ten percent of the work in harbors is based on overtime. Lack of replacements for flight attendants reporting sick could lead to flight cancellations.

Jarkko Eloranta, chairman of the blue collar central organization, SAK demanded on Friday that the government must pull back its plan. Eloranta said easier dismissals in small companies would create a two-tier labor market system and would create uncertainty among those employed in small companies.

In a meeting of union activists from around Finland, calls were heard for an actual general strike. Later on Friday the industrial workers union announced it decided on new actions, not published yet.

Besides opposing the current governmental plan, the unions have also called for a restoration of the decades-old consultation system in preparing labor legislation. From the late 1960s until the start of the current government in 2015, consultations between the employers, the unions and the government were a routine practice in preparing labor laws.

The so called “tripartite system” meant that when submitted to parliament, labor laws had already obtained the acceptance of the unions and the employers. Critics said however that with that system parliament often ended up in a role of a rubber stamp in labor law decisions.

Finance Minister Petteri Orpo, who is also chairman of the conservative National Coalition Party, on Friday defended the government´s right to go alone and to submit legislation to parliament. He denied the allegation that the unions had not been consulted in the preparations, but admitted that no unanimity had been reached.

Orpo said the government is still willing to negotiate. Before Wednesday’s strike wave, the government had restricted the plan of easier dismissals to companies under ten employees instead of 20 employees as previously proposed. But the unions kept on demanding the whole reform must be abandoned.

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