Mikko Salo, Executive Director of Loimu and Vice Chairman of Akava: We would like to negotiate reforms of working life constructively

If the working life reforms planned in the Government Programme are implemented, we will be going towards deteriorating employment protection. The Board of Akava has submitted a petition to Prime Minister Petteri Orpo to start negotiations in order to achieve a balance that takes into account the situation of employees.

Akava has proposed to the Government to start negotiations, but there has been no response to the proposal yet, says Mikko Salo.

Loimu was involved in outlining the parliamentary election goals with Akava, and Akava engaged in active advocacy work both before and after the parliamentary elections. Information seeped from the government negotiations that there are plans for changes in working life, which, from the point of view of employees, are detrimental. As Vice Chairman of the Board of Akava, Mikko Salo, Executive Director of Loimu, has been at the heart of influencing. Did the final content of the Government Programme still come as a surprise?

“I must say that we were disappointed and surprised by the outcome of these Government Programme projects concerning working life. We did expect that these government parties would want to reform working life in some respects, and we expected that, for example, the reform of unemployment benefits would certainly be on the new government’s task list,” Mikko Salo says.

“Instead, reforms related to, for example, the loosening the grounds for dismissal, the partial abolition of the obligation to state reasons for fixed-term employment and the restriction of industrial action rights were, as such, unpleasant surprises for employee organisations.”

Thus, the reforms of working life are mainly related to weakening the position and rights of employees.

“Above all, the problem is that the Government Programme as a whole is not in any way balanced between the different parties involved in working life. It could be said that the Government of Finland is here to implement all the wishes of the employer party and not really any wishes of the employee party,” says Mikko Salo.

What, then, is the worst thing in the Government Programme, and what are the most significant detrimental elements on the list planned by the Government?

“I am most annoyed by the things that are worst for Loimu’s members. One of these is that, in the future, an employer could make an employment contract for a fixed term of one year without a special reason. Fixed-term employment is already a significant problem in the Loimu fields, especially in universities, and we have been working hard to improve the situation since the early 2000s,” Salo says.

“Another one is a change to the regulation of the grounds for dismissal related to the person so that the employer could terminate the employment contract solely for a relevant reason, when nowadays a relevant and weighty reason is required for personal dismissal. This is a significant deterioration in employment protection,” he continues.

“I also consider it very negative to change the scope of application of the Act on Co-operation within Undertakings so that, in the future, only employers with more than 50 employees would have to comply with the Act on Co-operation within Undertakings, while the limit at the moment is 20. This also adversely affects employment protection as well as employees’ rights and opportunities to have their say.”

Negotiation and agreement the only sensible way

Opposition to Government reforms in employee organisations is wide, various demonstrations have already been organised extensively and the situation may develop in a very bad direction. Akava has proposed that the Government start negotiations quickly, so that the labour market does not fall into crisis. Akava emphasises that stabilising public finances and increasing employment require diverse and balanced examination and dialogue on reforms of working life. If there is no response to the petition, how will the Board of Akava and the Akava unions prepare to resist such weakening? How does Loimu intend to contribute to this?

“The Board of Akava and the senior management of the office have had many discussions and considered Akava’s approaches in the dialogue with the Government of Finland. On 13 October, we visited Prime Minister Petteri Orpo with a group of Akava’s chairmen and the senior management of the office and took Akava’s petition to the Government of Finland. In the petition, we offer negotiation paths and solutions for how to make the Government Programme’s section on working life more balanced between the parties involved.”

“It is a major element of labour legislation, the individual parts of which affect each other, partly directly, but also indirectly through very complex influence relationships. So everything affects everything, and now it seems that the Government has not thought through this subject as a whole, but has picked various proposals from the employer parties and just put them in the Government Programme,” says Mikko Salo.

“If matters are not negotiated and agreed upon between all parties in the labour market, there is a risk that Finnish labour legislation will always be undermined, depending on which coalition of parties is in power during each parliamentary term. The reforms will have an impact on overall legislation concerning working life, and this Government Programme seems to be heading towards deteriorating employment protection for the individual employee. If another government coalition is in power during the next parliamentary term, it may, of course, be that that government will change some of these things. I do not consider such a political pendulum to be a positive thing for Finnish working life. Quite the opposite, in fact.”

The Akava unions on a united front

Minister of Employment Arto Satonen convened a seminar on the Finnish labour market model on 8 November, and now Akava will see whether some kind of negotiation process emerges to rationalise the whole.

“Akava’s member unions have also considered measures together and what the members are ready for if the offered negotiation path doesn’t produce a result.”

Loimu is part of the unions’ united front, and Loimu’s Public Affairs Manager and Chief Negotiator Aaro Riitakorpi is a member of the working group established by Akava, which is preparing these possible measures. Loimu has already conducted one survey with its members on how they feel about these working life reforms by the Government and what they would possibly be ready for if the negotiations do not lead to a desired result and Akava’s member unions are forced to take a path of more robust measures.

”If we have to make more detailed plans between Akava’s member unions, we will again ask our members for their opinions and readiness to get involved. After all, organisations are their members, and members’ readiness to come together to influence and show their position is a really essential factor in a situation where other means do not seem to work,” Mikko Salo points out.

For more detailed information on the planned changes read The working life reforms of the Finnish government

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