Statement by Sami Ryynänen, Chief Shop Steward at Neste, 28 December 2023 – Shutting down the oil refinery’s production

Finland’s government is hitting hard at the heart of workers’ benefits, rights and working conditions. That is why employees have no option but to respond in kind.

The Industrial Union will shut down Neste’s oil refinery as part of its industrial action in protest against the government’s attacks on workers and working life.

The decision to shut down the oil refinery is a response to the government’s refusal to negotiate on its harmful changes to working life.

We hope the suspension of oil refining will make the government understand that it cannot force the entire burden of the state’s finances onto the shoulders of workers.

We have read the same economic news as Finland’s government. Finland is in a recession. Redundancies and layoffs are becoming more widespread. The state is taking on more debt.

Although the news is the same, we read it from a different standpoint. For the government, the news is a reason to impose cuts and austerity. For workers, it is grounds to hold on to the things the government is trying to take away.

The changes to employment security and unemployment security will make working life more precarious. Employers will gain more decision-making power in workplaces, as the minimum protections of employment conditions are chipped away, and employment can be terminated without a weighty reason.

The impacts of the changes can be measured in money. Every employee must have additional savings because unemployment security is weak, and earnings may suddenly dry up if a change occurs in working life. Employees will also need to put money aside in case of illness.

Many people may soon be surprised to learn how much of the employer’s responsibility is being stripped back and how little unemployment security can help people in different life circumstances. It is impossible to prepare for changes in advance if the adverse effects of decisions are downplayed or concealed behind talk of a Nordic approach.

The government may well be aiming for Nordic employment and indebtedness rates, but the means of reaching these goals are distinctly un-Nordic, despite what ministers and business leaders may say in public.

It is contrary to the Nordic approach to unilaterally weaken the security and bargaining position of workers. The purpose of labour laws is to protect the weaker party – the employee. Orpo’s government has decided to abandon the principle of protecting the weaker party and rewrite the law.

Will Finland still be Finland if the economy is the sole driver of politics and no one cares about the impacts of decisions?

The cuts that have already been implemented have pushed 17,000 children below the poverty line. All are the children of working families. At the same time, 100,000 more people will rely on income support. The increase in working poverty is tangible.

Finns must be able to pull together in difficult times. No one benefits from quarrelling and confrontation.

Unfortunately, we are now forced to take drastic measures because things that workers hold dear are under threat, and there is no trust in the government.

When the government talks of sharing the burden, what it actually means is shifting the entire burden onto workers.

When Petteri Orpo, the Prime Minister, claims that all means are on the table, he means that all means will once again be directed at one group: workers.

When Riikka Purra, the Finance Minister, says we have become accustomed to a standard of living that we have not earned, her words should be interpreted as meaning that the standard of living of working people must be lowered.

In any functioning democracy, the government must take into account the citizens who are critical of their actions. Finland’s government is trying to ignore civil society and undermine its activity.

It is undemocratic to restrict the right to strike while strikes are ongoing in protest against the government’s actions. It is unjust to cut unemployment benefits while unemployment is rising. It is unfair to disregard workers’ views while listening to industry leaders.

The government has said that it would be unusual from a democratic standpoint if it favoured one interest group above all others. On behalf of Neste’s employees, I would like to ask: Why does this not apply to industry?

A few years back, Lasse Laatunen, a former Labour Market Director at the Confederation of Finnish Industries, said that when he was a negotiator, he could always trust wage-earners to keep their promises.

The trade union movement’s attitudes to bargaining have not changed, although the bargaining conditions have deteriorated year by year. In spite of everything, Finnish workers can always be trusted to keep their word.

That is why we call on the government to come to the table and start discussing the changes of working life.