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02.02.2018 10:18

Unions organise political strikes against the cuts in employment security

A number of leading trade unions have organised a political strike on Friday February 2 against the Government’s new legislation aimed at cutting unemployment security.

The new legislation stipulates that an unemployed job-seeker may forfeit 4.65 percent of his or her benefit if they are deemed to be less than active in their search for employment.

And what it means to be ‘active’ in terms of looking for work is to be clearly regulated. The job-seeker must either find employment for 18 hours in a three month period, receive entrepreneurial income of at least 241 euro or participate in a five day training course or be available for other services offered by the employment offices.

From the outset the trade union movement has opposed the model chosen by the Government. The Unions see it simply as a cut in unemployment security.

It also goes against the tripartite national Competitiveness Pact in 2016. The latter was reluctantly accepted by the unions on condition that there would be no more cuts to unemployment security. The unions have kept their promises, but the Government has not.

SAK, the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions will hold a major rally against the cuts at Helsinki Senate Square on Friday February 2 at 11.00 o'clock. And it is being supported by many unions from other trade union confederations, too, like the Union of Professional Engineers and Trade Union Pro.

Industry, construction sites, transport to stop

A number of unions have announced that they will organise a political strike on the day of the rally to protest against theses moves by the Government.

According to Finnish legislation a union can organise a political strike if it is not targeted against a valid collective agreement or a specific employer. Such actions, therefore, incur no consequences for the employees or the union on strike.

Trade Union Pro announced it will organise a political strike to enable as many members as possible to join the rally in Helsinki. And it is urging its members to support the protest.

Jorma Malinen, the Trade Union Pro President says that Pro is very worried about the direction the Government employment policy is taking.

"There has already been statements from the Government that the next issues on the list are the generally binding character of collective agreements and making salaries flexible downwards. We are along on the Senate Square to oppose this policy."

JHL, the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors is firmly behind the political strike and recommends that its members take part in the demonstration in Helsinki.

JHL 019, a JHL local chapter in Helsinki for tram and metro personnel is actively supporting the protest by being instrumental in closing down almost the whole Helsinki public transport network on February 2.

The 226,000 member strong Industrial Union has a 24 hour political strike on February 2-3. This means that practically whole Finnish industry will stop, except tasks like rescue and protective services, some process industry and similar.

"With this action, the Industrial Union aims to make the government hear the problems unemployed people face and to treat them seriously. Their approach is based on sanctions and threats, and will only serve to make these problems worse", in the words of the statement issued by the union.

The unemployed deserve "support, encouragement, guidance, training and, most importantly, opportunities for employment", not "negative labelling and bureaucratic controlling", The Union says.

The Finnish Electrical Workers' Union will observe a one day work stoppage, too. The Union President Sauli Väntti says they are demanding that the Government cancel its plans for new legislation to cut unemployment security.

Construction workers and several branches of transport workers will “down tools” or stop work on that day, too.

This latest Government policy has raised considerable concern and opposition from among the population in general. The citizens’ initiative to cancel the legislation has, by the end of January, succeeded in collecting 140,875 signatures.

Citizens’ initiative is a mechanism that allows for a minimum of 50,000 Finnish citizens of voting age to submit an initiative to the Parliament to enact a piece of legislation.

This popular response makes the initiative the second most supported among the 694 initiatives attempted so far. Only 18 initiatives have so far passed the hurdle and been delivered to Parliament.

Helsinki 1 February 2018 by Heikki Jokinen

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