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07.08.2018 14:40

The new National Conciliator takes up her duties amid claims of bias

Vuokko Piekkala took up her new post as National Conciliator on Monday 6 August. Immediately after the Finnish Government appointed her she alarmed the trade unions by her comments to the media back in July.

Piekkala is a lawyer and had earlier worked as the labour market director at the Commission for Church Employers. This is one of Finland's central labour market organisations and represents the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland in labour market issues.

The National Conciliator is appointed for a four-year-period. For alternate terms the candidate comes from either the trade union side or employers' side.

The position fell vacant as the previous National Conciliator, former trade union lawyer Minna Helle resigned before the end of her term. At the beginning of June Helle changed her career direction when offered a job as the labour market director at the employers Technology Industries of Finland.

Following her recent appointment Vuokko Piekkala informed the public broadcaster Yle news that the first agreement reached in the collective agreement round will, under her guidance, set a pay rise ceiling for the rest of the agreements.

She is referring to the latest round of collective agreement negotiations whereby the  employers carefully coordinated a policy position that no collective agreement would give higher pay rises than the agreement set by the technology industry. This was, however, the policy of the employers, not the trade unions.

Unions demand neutrality in conciliation

The reaction from trade union leaders was swift. Millariikka Rytkönen, the President of the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals in Finland Tehy said it is very strange that the National Conciliator is anchoring her policy so clearly already, especially when considering that she should be neutral.

Ismo Kokko, the Adviser for Collective Bargaining at the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions SAK said on Twitter that the new National Conciliator is taking a stance that echoes that of the employers. The different needs of various branches can thus be forgotten, he fears.

Kristian Karrasch, Head of Bargaining at the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors JHL says he believes, in his Twitter comment that the collective agreements will be conducted according to consent from both parties.The sectors where the workforce is primarily made up of women must just be firm and coordinate with each other to get a gender equality allowance, he adds.

Ann Selin, President of Service Union United PAM demands an examination of conciliation activities in labour market disputes and the bargaining culture before the next round of collective agreement negotiations.

"The job of the National Conciliator cannot be to supervise a wage ceiling. An institution that is supposed to be impartial must remain impartial and independent. Those conditions must be strengthened because that is the only way that it can continue to do its main job", Selin states.

Selin also points to the widely accepted objective of narrowing unjustified pay differentials between men and women.

"It is unethical and wrong that a civil servant appointed by the Government, the National Conciliator, takes a decision alone to support a wages policy that prevents this objective from being realised”, Selin says.

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