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Workers under attack in Finland

The right-wing coalition government has launched proposals for damaging changes to work and welfare rights, reports TONY BURKE

FINNISH trade unions are facing a major attack on employment and welfare rights by the right-wing coalition of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo and his Deputy Prime Minister Riikka Purra of the extremist Finns Party.

Orpo was forced to defend his deputy recently after the uncovering of racist and violent remarks about black and poor people by Purra, who is also the country’s finance minister. They were published under a pseudonym 15 years ago.

Their coalition has now launched proposals for significant changes to work and welfare rights.

Previous Finnish governments worked on consensus with unions and other political parties on providing employment and economic growth incentives, but the Orpo/Purra coalition has taken an aggressive approach to workers and unions.

Proposals include include tax reductions supposedly to “encourage” individuals to choose work over benefits; reduced earnings-related unemployment benefits — after two months of unemployment, benefits would be reduced by 20 per cent, and after eight months they would be reduced to 75 per cent of their original level. The coalition are also proposing that workers will no longer be paid for their first day of sick leave.

A major attack on national collective bargaining, the cornerstone of pay bargaining in Finland is also planned by extending local bargaining to companies to opt out of national agreements. 

Also stricter rules, including financial penalties, will be introduced to discourage sympathy strikes and “politically motivated” industrial action.

The Finnish trade union confederation of 18 unions, SAK, and left-wing critics say that the proposals are unbalanced and are heavily influenced by employers’ organisations. 

Unions are planning major demonstrations this autumn as the proposals go through the Finnish parliament.

Tony Burke is co-chair of the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom.

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