Mandatory laws difficult to railroad through
The Finnish Government is planning to strip trade unions of the right to agree on terms such as better pay levels for Sunday work than those laid down by law.Legal experts in labour law consider that the proposal is unconstitutional and in contravention of international agreements.
If the Government Proposal for so-called ‘mandatory labour laws’ is passed by Parliament, it will take years before they become a fact of life.
PAM lawyer Arja Pohjola points out that trade unions do not consider as legal the Government’s plans to restrict their right to negotiate their own agreements.As the legality of the mandatory laws would remain in question upon their entry into force, the unions would hardly be willing to renew their collective agreements accordingly.The situation on the labour market would remain unclear with regard to these terms and conditions and clarity would have to be sought from international legal fora.
Arja Pohjola and Jari Hellsten, lawyer at the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions SAK and expert in trade unions’ EU advocacy,consider the mandatory laws to bein contravention of EU law and of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions concerning the right to organize, among others.The ILO Conventionsguarantee trade unions the right to improve their members’ terms and conditions of employment through negotiations.According to the lawyers, the validity of laws can be put to the test in the ILO, the Council of Europe and the Court of Human Rights.Hellsten commented on the Government Proposal in an interview with the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE at the beginning of September.
‘Finland is committed to complying with international agreements and it can’t enact laws that would conflict with those or with EU law,’ Pohjola says.
Pohjola also considers that the Government Proposal is clearly against Finland’s Constitution, the ‘law of laws’,which also guarantees trade unions the right to improve their members’ terms and conditions of employment through negotiations.According to Pohjola, it is highly possible that these contradictions are enough to defeat the Government Proposal in the early stages at Parliament’s Constitutional Law Committee.
The Finnish Government’s savage proposal has attracted international attention– and that’s no wonder:
‘Nowhere else has anyone dared to displace the bargaining procedure when it comes to Sunday or overtime pay or annual holidays,’ blasts Hellsten.He says that mandatory laws are a ‘rare bird’ in Europe.
The strong will eat the weak
It would probably still be possible to agree on the terms and conditions falling under the mandatory legislation in the future as well, but only at a workplace or employee level.
‘Bargaining would be based on the principle of “bargain if you can”,’ Pohjola remarks.He anticipates that this could lead to major conflicts at workplaces.
Pohjola points out that people have joined trade unions to seek more power at the negotiating tables.
‘An employee is never an equal negotiating partner with an employer.Labour laws have been enacted to protect employees.’
Pohjola believes that the Government Proposal is a step towards a society where politicians can dictate the terms and conditions of employment.
The proposal is also condemned as ‘absurd’ by labour law professor Seppo Koskinen from the University of Turku.In September, he commented in the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper that ‘the freedom of agreement should not be restricted in this manner, asemployer organizationsare definitely capable of holding their own’.
This is theissue
The Government is proposing that some terms and conditions of employment be enacted by law in such a way that it would no longer be possible to negotiate better onesfor collective agreements.These terms and conditions cover pay levels for sick leave, overtime and Sunday work, as well as the maximum duration of annual holidays.
If the Government Proposal is passed, the amendments may enter into force, at the earliest, after the current collective agreements have expired.The majority of collective agreements will expire during 2016 and 2017.