FAQ about #SeriousGrounds

1. Why are unions opposed to the government programme? What can you do?

Why does the Industrial Union oppose the cuts and erosions of employees’ rights which the Finnish Government announced in the summer?

All of the erosions of rights and cuts planned by the Government are targeted at one group: employees. The decisions are justified on the pretext of concern about public finances, even as the taxation of high-income earners is planned to be lowered significantly at the same time.

What are the most severe measures planned by the Government to complicate employees’ daily lives and trample their rights?

First on the Government’s agenda are restrictions on the right to strike, which would prohibit protests against the Government’s other cuts and erosions of rights. The Government is planning to directly fulfil the goals of business interest groups. The wishes of the side of employees are not taken into account in any way. If implemented, the measures would be more drastic than the Sipilä government’s so-called competitiveness pact, which was a major transfer of income from employees to employers. Earnings-related unemployment allowance will be completely eroded, and payment of wages will be cut off quickly in the event of lay-offs, for example.

What can I do to resist the planned cuts and erosions of rights?

Your most important act is to become a member of a trade union. Together, we can achieve things that no one can on their own. Your membership subscription is an investment in us having the strength to make a difference. As a member of the union, you are part of a larger whole in which active members work together look after the interests of all employees. The union also gives a voice to those who may not be heard at the workplace. Contact the Industrial Union right away if you are not yet a member!

As a member of the Industrial Union, you receive information from your shop steward on how you can make a difference. As a member, you can always call the Industrial Union’s employment counselling hotline +358 20 690 447 on weekdays Mon–Fri at 8.30–15 or email us at [email protected].

Why is membership in a trade union important?

The collective agreement negotiated by the union is your most important membership benefit. Collective agreements can secure far better terms of employment than what the law dictates. These include up to several thousand euros more in annual earnings, shorter hours, sick pay and parental leave pay. As a member of the union, you get the support of union representatives at your workplace as well as counselling services and legal aid in case of problems. As a member of the union, you can also join an unemployment fund for earnings-related unemployment security.

In the current situation, membership of the union is important above all because together, we can resist the Government’s plans to erode employees’ rights.

How do I become a member of the Industrial Union?

You can become a member easily online or by contacting your workplace’s shop steward. You can always call us at +358 20 690 446 (on matters related to membership and membership subscriptions) Mon–Fri at 8.30–12.00.

Where can I find up-to-date information about protests against the Government Programme?

Follow the Industrial Union’s channels. Members of the Industrial Union have their own section on our website teollisuusliitto.fi, where all news on #PainavaSyy and #SeriousGrounds can be found here. We also raise the issue in Tekijä magazine, newsletters, social media and marketing.

Members of the Industrial Union receive information from their shop steward on how to participate in the measures. You can also always call the Industrial Union’s employment counselling hotline +358 20 690 447 on weekdays Mon–Fri at 8.30–15 or email us at [email protected].

Follow announcements from member unions of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions SAK with the hashtag #PainavaSyy and #SeriousGrounds on social media.

2. How is the government planning to erode employees’ livelihood and rights?

What do the planned cuts to earnings-related unemployment security mean for employees?

The cuts agreed in the Government Programme will erode earnings-related unemployment security. The aim is to show jobseekers the stick to “encourage” them look for work. It makes no difference whether jobseekers show initiative, the cuts will apply either way.  Instead of giving incentives, many of the measures worsen existing unemployment traps. Industrial workers are particularly hard hit by the cuts because they also affect employees who are laid off.

What does the Government’s plans to eliminate exempt amounts and cuts to housing allowance mean for employees?

In addition to the laid off and the unemployed, the cuts in the Government Programme will also affect working people, as many low-income workers also receive housing allowance or adjusted unemployment benefit, for example. The purpose of these forms of support is to prevent low-paid workers from falling into poverty and to encourage small-scale work.

What do the Government’s planned cuts mean for older workers?

In addition to families with children and low-income earners, older employees will also be severely affected. According to the Government Programme, the age-related exemption rules for unemployment security will be abolished. The employee’s age currently affects the conditions for unemployment security in a number of ways. The purpose of this has been to protect an employee with a long career from major changes before retirement.

What do the Government’s planned cuts to education mean for workers?

The abolition of adult education allowance will block an important route for employees to change careers and obtain further training. In the future, career changes will mostly be only possible for those who can afford it. Learning and coping at work will suffer as a result of the Government’s decisions, which is contrary to the Work2030 goals. ​Employment is sought through cuts and erosion of rights, with the idea that everyone is able to manage in the same type of work until the end of our careers. This is not the case.The accelerating speed of technological advances also requires investing in the competence of employees.

What do the Government’s plans to restrict the right to strike mean for workers?

The Government Programme contains plans to restrict the right to strike in a variety of ways. The changes will make it harder for workers to protest against the Government. For this reason, the restrictions on the right to strike will be implemented before any other initiatives to weaken the workers’ rights and everyday life. In addition to restricting the political right to strike, the aim is to prevent strong sectors from supporting weaker ones with support strikes. A massive increase in the fines for striking and the introduction of a personal fine create a deterrent aimed at preventing unwanted industrial action.

More specifically, there is a desire to drastically increase the penalties for illegal strikes. The fines could be set as high as €150,000 with a minimum of €10,000.

According to the Government’s plans, individual employees would also be penalised for participating in an illegal strike. Employees could be imposed a fine of 200 euros in situations where the employee continues an industrial action that has been found illegal by a court of law.

The Government is seeking to restrict the duration of political strikes to a maximum of one day. Sympathy strikes would also be restricted. They should be reasonable in relation to the aims and only cause a nuisance to the parties to the labour dispute.

What do the Government’s planned erosions of collective agreements mean for workers?

Using legislation, the Government is forcing the balance of the labour market to tilt in favour of employers. As a result of the changes, the universality of the collective agreements weakens as employers have no interest in unionisation. The aim is to replace trained shop stewards with elected representatives to rubber-stamp local agreements. Employers may seek to make company-specific agreements with worse terms of employment than required by law. Badly written local agreements will weaken the terms of employment.

What does the Government’s proposed suspension of wages in exceptional situations mean for workers?

As a result of the Government’s impairments to working life, the employer’s obligation to pay wages in the event of dismissals or lay-offs will end much faster than currently. In implementing the changes, the Government will resort to the ‘forced legislation’ of the past Sipilä government as a way to prevent employees from using collective bargaining to win terms that are more favourable than what the law states. The first day of sick leave is proposed to be made unpaid, forcing workers to choose between their livelihood and health.

What do the Government’s planned changes to protection against dismissal mean for workers?

The Government intends to make it much easier to fire employees. In the future, serious grounds would no longer be required for dismissal. The new legislation would make it impossible for employees to know what kind of behaviour may lead to the termination of their employment.

Employment security will be weakened in other ways as well, as employers would no longer have to provide a justification for fixed-term employment relationships lasting up to one year.

What do the Government’s plans to erode rights and terms of employment mean for workers in companies with fewer than 50 employees?

The Government is especially interfering with the rights and terms of employment of employees in small and medium-sized companies. As a whole, all of the planned cuts and erosions will hit these workers, and companies with fewer than 50 employees will be affected even further. A very large share of the Industrial Union’s members work in small companies, where issues related to the implementation of terms of employment and the law are already the most serious and the systems for employee participation are the weakest. The obligations of the Co-operation Act will be lifted for companies employing fewer than 50 people, and all minimum durations of negotiations will be halved. In the planned legislation, the notice periods for lay-offs would be shortened from two weeks to one. At worst, the law would violate employees’ constitutional freedom of contract.

3. Other questions

Has the number of industrial actions increased in Finland?

Industrial action has not become more common in Finland – rather the opposite, in fact.

Statistics Finland collects annual data on the number of cases of industrial action. The number varies greatly. Last year, for example, clearly more working days were lost due to industrial action than earlier in the 2000s. In 2021, on the other hand, the number of cases of industrial action was the lowest in more than 50 years.

Last year, there were 64 cases of industrial action in Finland. Some 177,600 employees took part in industrial action, and around 962,600 working days were lost. A year earlier, around 22,500 employees took part in industrial action, with around 34,100 lost working days.

The larger-than-usual number of cases of industrial action in 2022 was mainly due to strikes in the municipal and healthcare sectors.

According to Statistics Finland, the figures for 2022 for the number of strikes in a year were fairly common in the 1980s and even in the first half of the 1990s. In other words, strikes have not become more common in the 2000s compared to previous decades, rather the opposite. During some years the 1970s and 1980s, well over two million working days were lost due to industrial action.

Are strikes common in Finland?

Employers sometimes give the impression that strikes are rampant in Finland compared with other countries. This is not true.

Economist Antti Koskela examines at the number of strikes in Finland and elsewhere in the world in his book Hanskat tippui – lakkojen historia ja vaikutus yhteiskunnassa. Statistics show that compared to other countries, Finland is not especially prone to strikes.

In France and Denmark, for example, three times as many working days are lost as in Finland. Finland is on a par with countries such as South Korea and the UK. The comparison is made per thousand workers, so the size of the country does not affect the figures.

In Norway, the number of days lost due to industrial action is slightly higher than in Finland. In Sweden, the figure is clearly lower. Among European countries, Finland ranks slightly above average.

In Denmark, the most strike-prone country in the Nordic countries, the law related to strikes is roughly the same as in the other Nordic countries, even stricter than in Finland. The reason for Denmark’s tendency for strikes is unknown.

Is the right to strike protected by law?

The right of employees to go on strike is universally recognised. For example, the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work lists “freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining” as one of the fundamental principles.

The Constitution of Finland guarantees freedom the freedom to form trade unions, and the right to strike is considered a part of this. Provisions on industrial action are also found in the Collective Agreements Act and the Act on Mediation in Labour Disputes.

The freedom to form trade unions means, among other things, that employees may not be intimidated or discriminated by the employer due to participating in a strike organised by their trade union.

Unions also have the right to declare a strike on specific work tasks, regardless of who performs the work. In other words, strikes are not restricted to members of the trade union. This principle has also been confirmed in Finland by a decision of the Supreme Court.

Do the Constitution or ILO conventions truly allow restrictions on the right to strike?

The Constitution of Finland states quite clearly: ‘Everyone has the right to arrange meetings and demonstrations without a permit, as well as the right to participate in them’. It is therefore a fundamental right. Our Constitution is bound by international treaties to which Finland is committed.  As a member of the EU, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union is binding on Finland. Article 28 of the Charter guarantees the right to collective bargaining and action to defend their interests, including strike action.

The decisions of the International Labour Organization (ILO) are binding and affect the rights of Finnish citizens. The right to negotiate collectively and defend collective interests through industrial action was enshrined by the ILO almost a hundred years ago.

It should be remembered that even the current term ‘illegal strike’ is misleading. The parties to a collective agreement pledge to guarantee the industrial peace of their members during the terms of the agreement. If this agreement is broken, the matter is treated as a civil case of a breach of contract and heard by the Labour Court.

Various European countries have procedures in place based on agreement or the law relating to the organisation of industrial action, notice periods and protected work. The right to strike itself is not restricted as such. Even in the Nordic countries, political strikes have been assessed on the basis of whether the action taken corresponds to the underlying cause of the need to exert political influence. Even in these cases, the question has been whether such strikes can last days or weeks.

The right to strike is a human right, and any restrictions to it can be challenged in domestic courts of law, the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. Fundamental rights and human rights must be respected, and it is very difficult in practice for a single government to deviate from this universal norm.

The public discussion on labour policy makes references to the Swedish, German and Danish models. What do they mean?

These refer to each country’s version of the so-called Nordic labour market model.  Its cornerstones include a high degree of unionisation of parties, a broad, trust-based way of agreeing on issues, and the fact that political decision-makers are only involved through tripartite negotiations in which key issues are agreed through negotiation instead of forced by legislation. 

In Sweden and Denmark, employees have a representation in the employer company’s governance and wide opportunities to agree and influence issues at the workplace level. This is supported by legislation which, in practice, obligates employers to cooperate effectively.

The model of each country is a holistic system in which each force has a counterforce.

For this reason, the Finnish Government’s intent to cherry-pick erosions of workers’ rights and increased leeway for employers is not an effort to copy any of the above models, but an unacceptable excuse to weaken the standing of employees.