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Union calls for extra wage increase for women-dominated sectors

A Finnish trade union is calling for a separate wage increase for public sector jobs dominated by women – on top of general wage hikes. The JHL union, which represents workers in the public sector, says that pay in women-dominated sectors has lagged behind that in male-dominated professions. Employer groups have said there's no money to make up the difference.

Lapset leikkivät varhaiskasvatuspäivänä.
Image: Miia Roivainen / Yle

The biggest public and welfare sector union federation JHL has called for a separate salary hike for low-paid sectors dominated by women, in addition to a general wage increase. The 225,000-member organisation says the two-fold pay hike is needed to help women working in low-wage jobs pull even with their male counterparts.

The majority of the umbrella union’s membership is women – some 70 percent. JHL said that the level of increases for jobs dominated by women has lagged in recent years.

"We need a separate round on top of the general increase. Women-dominated sectors have been kept in check and now we have to ensure that purchasing power remains strong in women-led fields," said JHL chair Päivi Niemi-Laine.

"The increase would have to be several percentage points over the next few years," she added.

Municipal employer: No straying from competitiveness deal

Employer representatives say they’ve been taken aback by the union’s position. Markku Jalonen, labour market director for municipal employers, said that the competitiveness deal agreed by labour market groups must be upheld.

Jalonen was referring to a government-mandated labour market accord to help rein in unit labour costs in an effort to make Finnish businesses – and the wider economy – more competitive.

"I want to emphasise that in the competitiveness agreement all parties have agreed to negotiations to support Finland’s international competitiveness, employment and productivity as well as the development of public finances. Because of this I doubt we can afford to have costs rise too much," Jalonen explained.

The JHL proposal is completely contrary to the principles of the so-called “Finnish model”, a reformed labour market model for negotiating wages and salaries, in which employer and employee representatives discuss wages directly, instead of via centralized bodies.

The goal of the overhaul is to ensure that wages in important export sectors serve as a cap on overall national salary increases.

Union: No progress on wage equality

The labour market is also grappling with another source of upheaval, the decision of the business lobby the EK to tear up 22 collective bargaining contracts with labour unions. The move was seen as especially damaging to the many low-wage workers covered by the agreements.

The JHL has defended its proposal for an additional wage hike for women, noting that a tri-partite agreement involving the government as well as employer and employee groups ensures equal salaries for men and women, and that public salaries are being effectively cut by a decision to reduce holiday pay as part of the competitiveness deal.

"We are aiming for costs that are consistent with the export sector and in addition we want to promote equal pay in accordance with the government’s gender equality programme," Niemi-Laine pointed out.

"In practice it means that it would be good to also agree how ensure equal pay and to reserve enough funding for it in autumn discussions," she added.

"Equal pay has not advanced in the right way under the current administration," the union head charged.

Municipal labour director Markku Jalonen has rejected the proposal, saying that there is no need to negotiate a separate equal pay rise.

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