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25.07.2023 13:45

The government would interfere with the right to strike and restrict agreement on wage increases

PAM’s Collective Bargaining Director Jaana Ylitalo fears that the tough policies in the government programme will lead to conflicts between employees and employers and thus make agreement on employment terms difficult.

If they go ahead as planned, the policies in Petteri Orpo’s government programme would significantly undermine employees’ influence, estimates Service Union United PAM’s Collective Bargaining Director Jaana Ylitalo.

– The policies in the programme would hit the opportunities for influence of both individual employees and organised work communities as well as the national collective bargaining system. This is a very harsh package, she estimates.

Government would restrict the right to strike

Fines for illegal strikes would increase significantly if the government gets its way. The highest fines would go up to 150,000 euros, the lower limit would be 10,000 euros.

Ylitalo wonders what sort of demonstration would lead to a fine. Would a minute’s silence at a work site when an agreement is in force mean a fine of 10,000 euros for a union branch? PAM members organised demonstrations like that at the end of last year when the Finnish Commerce Federation did not agree to negotiate on wage increases.

Ordinary workers could also be fined. There would be a 200 euro penalty fee if a worker took part in a strike declared illegal by a court.

– Is the idea to raise the threat level with high fines so that people don’t dare to express their opinion through walk-outs and the like if something unexpected like a major restructuring happens in company, that seems unreasonable, Ylitalo says.

She points out that interfering in the right to strike is against freedom of association as guaranteed by international law.

Ability to agree wage rises would be restricted

If the government’s plans go ahead, the ability of unions to agree wage rises will be restricted.

– The Orpo government wants to change the status of strikes. If we issue a strike warning, we will have to go to the conciliator’s office and continue negotiations. In law, however, the conciliator’s hands would be  tied in that her mediation proposal could not exceed the general level of wage rises, Ylitalo explains the proposal.

She points out that it is also unclear how the general level is defined. There have been upheavals in the agreement system for some time already.

– As PAM defends the interest of low wage-earners, it would be dramatic if the change made it almost impossible for wage programmes to allow wages that have lagged behind to catch up.

Negotiating equality could be put at risk in local agreements

The government wants to open local agreement sections of collective agreements to employers that are not members of employers’ organisations. PAM has not opposed such an extension of local agreement, but has insisted that in negotiations employees are represented by a shop steward.

Under the government programme, employees could also be represented by someone other than a shop steward.

– The person agreeing could be someone not familiar with the ins and outs of employment terms and agreements. In negotiations they could be completely overwhelmed under pressure from employers. Shop stewards have the knowledge and are backed up by the union’s know-how, Ylitalo says.

Many companies would be excluded from statutory consultation procedures

Currently the Act on Co-operation withing Undertakings applies to companies with at least 20 employees. The government wants to raise the limit to companies with 50 employees. This change would mean that a large share of PAM members would be excluded from the consultation procedure.

The government also plans to halve the time limits for co-operation negotiations. Whereas now six weeks of negotiations have been needed for significant changes, the time limit is being shortened to three weeks, and for minor changes the time would be reduced from 14 to 7 days.

– Shop stewards can only properly go through what is to be negotiated on the first day of co-operation negotiations. They would have very little time to get up to speed and look for possible solutions compared to the employer, Ylitalo points out.

Text: Anu Vallinkoski