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Govt, unions, private sector reach accord on controversial firing bill

Government as well as employer and employee representatives have agreed on the wording of a controversial change to legal protections from summary sackings.

From left: Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, Finance Minister Petteri Orpo and Labour Minister Jari Lindström. Image: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva

The government as well as employer and employee representatives said Monday that they had reached agreement on the details of a contentious bill that would make it easier for small firms to fire workers.

However although the tri-partite group said it had completed finessing of the wording of the legislative draft, the umbrella blue collar trade union confederation SAK said Monday afternoon that it still sees no need to change current worker protections from summary dismissal.

In the latest iteration of the controversial measure, government had rolled back proposed rules that would make it easier for firms employing fewer than 20 persons to summarily dismiss workers, and was merely proposing that courts consider the size of a business when deciding on wrongful dismissal cases.

"We are satisfied that the wording of the law involved a tri-partite approach and we can say that the amendment to the employment contracts act and its rationale are consistent. This is about aligning the legislation with current case law," said SAK chair Jarkko Eloranta.

The confederation leader said that the SAK will not decide on further industrial action, adding that it will be up to member unions to decide how to go forward. The revised draft legislation will become public when the bill advances to the cabinet. Meanwhile MPs will receive a copy of the legislative amendment in the days ahead.

Business lobby holds different view

Head of the Federation of Finnish Enterprises lobby group Mikael Pentikäinen confirmed that the working group unanimously accepted the form of the amendments. However he distanced himself from the SAK's view that the draft bill should simply validate current legal practice.

"In our view the wording is good and if the draft bill goes before parliament on this basis and is approved, then we believe that the proposal will lower the threshold for small firms to hire [workers] in the desired fashion," Pentikäinen added.

The lobby group chair noted that so far the size of a firm had not been taken into consideration when courts have ruled on the legality of dismissals.

"This is a significant change in our opinion and it will have an impact," he declared.

Strikes prompt govt to back down

The tri-partite deliberations were part of a climbdown deal offered by the government after major backlash to an initial draft of the bill that eventually led to strike action from Finland's unions.

An initial proposal allowed firms with fewer than twenty workers to more easily sack workers. Government argued that this change would encourage smaller firms to hire more people. However, as the wave of strikes began, the coalition was forced to reduce the size of the businesses affected to those with ten employees or less.

In its latest concession, the government proposed that it would remove this number altogether, with courts merely advised to take into account the number of employees in a firm when deciding on wrongful dismissal cases.

All of the parties to the talks confirmed to public broadcaster Yle that the negotiations preceded amicably.

Government plans to submit the bill to Parliament for discussion this month.

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