Thousands give their backing to the unemployed on Senate Square
PAM members and other demonstrators filled Helsinki’s Senate Square on Friday. Photo: Jukka Rapo
It is estimated that over 10,000 people gathered on Helsinki’s Senate Square on Friday to defend the unemployed. Hundreds of PAM members also gave a big thumbs-down to the government’s so-called active model.
Helsinki’s Senate Square filled up with crowds resisting cuts to unemployment security on Friday, when the #Äänityöttömälle demonstration brought together people opposing the government’s so-called active model. According to the organiser SAK and the police, there were over 10,000 demonstrators, with more following the event via the webstream and on social media. Hundreds of PAM members turned up from around Finland.
A couple of hundred PAM members from the Helsinki region met in Hakaniemi before the demonstration started and marched to the Senate Square with members of other unions and others who had joined the crowd, chanting slogans against the government’s cuts to unemployment benefits. When the procession arrived at around 10.45, the square and the adjacent cathedral steps began to fill up, and a large crowd of PAM members from around Finland were already waiting outside PAM’s tent. There buckets were being handed out for the demonstrators to make a noise with.
Reijo Paananen, Secretary General of the Nordic Industrial Workers organisation, opened the event from the rostrum, saying that the idea is to give a voice to the unemployed and support for a citizens’ initiative demanding that the active model, which is badly designed and cuts unemployment security, be overturned. So far the initiative has already gathered over 140,000 signatures, and according to both Paananen and SAK President Jarkko Eloranta, who spoke next, it deserves to be properly debated in the Finnish parliament. Hearing that message, the crowd on the square turned towards the Government Palace and enthusiastically made as much noise as they could towards the palace.
"Contravenes the competitiveness pact and is unfair"
"Today the voice of the unemployed can be seen and heard ", Eloranta said in his speech.
"The employee organisations agreed to a difficult competitiveness pact. One condition was that unemployment security would not be cut any further. And that’s what the active model does. Agreements must be respected and the cuts to unemployment security must be reversed ", he said. There must be just and decent treatment of the unemployed in this country."
Next a video was shown where four unemployed persons told of all the things they might have to give up in their everyday lives if the cuts go through. Then representatives of the government and the opposition parties debated the active model and unemployment security in general.
For the government parties, MPs Juhana Vartiainen of the National Coalition Party and Katri Kulmuni of the Centre Party defended the model, saying that it is expected to reduce unemployment. Kulmuni also pointed out that the government has reformed unemployment security to boost entrepreneurship and studying and that employment has been improving recently. But then the active model came in for severe criticism from Li Andersson, Antti Rinne and Touko Aalto, the chairpersons of the opposition parties the Left Alliance, the SDP and the Greens. All three considered it unfair because the unemployed themselves may not be able to influence whether their benefits are cut if no jobs or employment schemes are available. The three would prefer to see more effort put into personalised employment services to help the unemployed to find work – and making more jobs available. This message got a more enthusiastic reception from the audience than the speeches by the government representatives.
Before a poetry and music performance there was a presentation of SAK’s own so-called motivating employment model. This would mean that the unemployed would be in a better position to avoid being hit by qualifying periods. The entire system of qualifying periods would be simplified, and in SAK’s opinion in future every hour worked should extend the period of income security, said Saana Siekkinen, head of SAK’s unemployment security development project.