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The Nordic model under attack in Finland

5 July, 2023Following the elections in April this year, conservative leader Petteri Orpo has formed a new right-wing coalition government, including the far-right populist True Finns party. The new government has outlined a plan that runs completely counter to the objectives of the trade union movement. If implemented, it will take Finland further away from the consensus-based social policies of the other Nordic countries. 

The plan includes attacks on collective bargaining, industrial action, protection against dismissal and much more.

Some key elements of the reform proposal:

  • In collective bargaining, a shift away from the national sectoral level towards company-level agreements will be promoted, contrary to general EU policy as set out in the Minimum Wage Directive.
  • In future, company agreements can be overridden by legislation. Today this is only possible through national collective agreements.
  • In social dialogue, the threshold for compulsory consultation will be raised from 20 to 50 employees. This will significantly reduce the number of companies affected.
  • The right to take political industrial action will be restricted.
  • Supportive industrial action will be subject to a proportionality test.
  • Fines for unions for unlawful industrial action will be increased to a minimum of €10,000. The law will also allow sanctions to be imposed on individual workers.
  • The scope of local bargaining will be extended to allow workers' representatives other than union shop stewards to negotiate agreements.
  • Local agreements will also be possible in unorganised workplaces.
  • The obligation to re-employ will be abolished for employers with less than 50 employees.
  • Fixed-term contracts will be allowed for up to one year without special justification.
  • Dismissals will be justified if there are valid reasons, even if they are not serious. The current Labour Code contains both criteria.
  • The first day of sick leave will be unpaid for absences of less than five days, except in the case of accidents at work and where sick pay from the first day is guaranteed by collective agreement.

Trade unions are watching the plans closely and the new Finnish government will face strong opposition from the country's unions, which are among the strongest in Europe. The proposed reform would mark a new era in Finnish politics, as the Nordic model of industrial relations has traditionally been respected even by centre-right governments.

IndustriAll Europe deputy general secretary Isabelle Barthès expressed her surprise and disappointment at the Orpo government's plan.

“In the current cost of living crisis, it is essential that trade unions are able to fight together to ensure decent wages and conditions for their members. The Finnish plan completely undermines the spirit of constructive industrial relations and contradicts recently adopted EU instruments on wages, collective bargaining and social dialogue.

"Once again we see that far-right parties only pretend to defend workers' interests in their speeches, but as soon as they come to power they change the law to make it harder for workers."

Says IndustriALL general secretary Atle Høie: 

“It is very disturbing to see a country with a tradition of solid industrial relations turn down the populist route and attack and try to undermine workers’ rights. We strongly support the Finnish unions in fighting to maintain the pillars of constructive dialogue and respect for fundamental workers’ rights.”