Employers’ ironclad coordination remains steadfast during latest round of collective bargaining

The ongoing round of collective bargaining has been going on now for nearly eight months.The  employers’ joint coordination throughout the negotiations has been very firm, say trade union leaders.

Finland had a tradition of broad national labour market pacts until the employers’ umbrella organisation Confederation of Finnish Industries EK announced that it was no longer willing to be a part of any nationally coordinated labour market pact.

Therefore, collective bargaining is now taking place at union level. Which means the broader scopes are not being set at a national level as before.

However, one special feature of the ongoing round of collective bargaining is the even tighter control being exercised by the employers’ EK, than earlier, under the national pacts, says Jorma Malinen, president of the Trade Union Pro.

“The EK leaders’ talk about union level negotiation rounds and the importance of local agreements are just window-dressing”, Malinen says.

Voices from the other unions say the same. The employers have arrived at all negotiation tables with more or less identical proposals.

In some cases these coordinated proposals received from EK were not even reworked. A union that is working solely in the domestic market and not with industrial production received, from their employers, a proposal that the development of their product export must be taken into account when considering pay levels.

EK coordination has been at its most steadfast and intransigent when it comes to pay rises. The pay rise sought in the metal industry was blocked right across the board. Now all collective agreements share quite identical pay rises.

New straitjacket

Jarkko Eloranta, President of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions SAK writes about the same issue in his blog. He says that the Finnish trade union movement have again showed its responsibility in the negotiations.

For this reason, Eloranta says, “the employers’ blood oath coordination looks like excessive self-defense”.

“The employers called confederation level agreements restrictive while ignoring the different branches’ special characteristics and needs.” Now they are putting an even tighter straitjacket on the labour market, Eloranta says.

Antti Palola, President of the Finnish Confederation of Professionals STTK has also witnessed the employers’ comprehensive coordination of collective bargaining.

He reminds us all that there was earlier a lot of discussion on how different circumstances in various sectors and companies might affect collective agreements. However, now, in real practical terms, these factors are not being seen in the pay rises.

Both Eloranta and Palola are worried about the future of collective bargaining. This year was a kind of experiment with the new negotiation model but what will future bring with it?

Riku Aalto, President of the major Industrial Union is also thinking about the future in his interview with the Union’s magazine Tekijä.

He says that employers have now lost the argument as to how in union level negotiations it is easier to reach branch specific results than with a national pact. It seems “that a coordinated labour market pact is in principle just as fine for the employers as the national level pacts have been.”

Aalto says that the unions should now learn from this that their mutual coordination must be stronger. Even though this will not be easy, there is a definite and real need to strengthen this coordination.

Heikki Jokinen