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SDP chair hints at rolling back unpopular labour market reforms in May Day address

Rinne also repeated a pledge that he’d made last May Day to introduce a 100-euro pension increase for low-income retirees.

SDP chair Antti Rinne participated in a May Day labour movement march from Hakaniemi to the Central Railway Station. Image: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva

Times are changing, Social Democratic Party chair Antti Rinne said to crowds gathered at downtown Helsinki’s Central Railway Station for annual May Day speeches. Rinne, who is identifying possible coalition partners to form a new government after edging a narrow victory in last month’s general election, declared that there will be no more "legal enforcement" affecting workers.

"A small country like Finland cannot afford to reject the culture of compromise and a contract society. We cannot afford a self-inflicted crisis of confidence," he commented, likely referring to the outgoing government’s so-called social contract that saw government transfer some social payments from employers to employees, lengthen working hours and cut holidays in the public sector in a bid to boost business competitiveness by cutting unit labour costs.

Rinne also repeated a pledge that he’d made last May Day to introduce a 100-euro pension increase for low-income retirees.

"Society cannot stand by while the elderly are in distress. This is why we have called for a 100-euro increase for pensions below 1,400 euros over several years. Experts say this proposal alone would lift 55,000 pensioners out of poverty," Rinne declared.

The SDP leader said that the outcome of the election proved that voters were tired of a conservative government. He said that it’s now time for a government of the future and called for reforms to secure economic growth that was socially and ecologically sustainable.

"I mean bold future reforms. Investments in science and research. Job creation. Caring. Social and health care services. Senior care. Child welfare. Support for the elderly," he continued.

Rinne said that Europarliament elections due at the end of the month would determine the future of the EU. He noted that the failure of immigration policy had boosted the fortunes of the right in Europe.

Finns Party’s Halla-aho slams fragmented party system

Meanwhile over in Hesperia Park, Finns Party chair Jussi Halla-aho condemned what he described as Finland’s fragmented party system, which he said makes it difficult to form a majority government. Halla-aho’s party was narrowly pipped at the election finish line by Antti Rinne’s SDP, which won 40 seats to his party’s 39.

The leader of the populist party pointed to Sweden’s system of bloc politics and the Danish model of a minority government as more functional approaches. He added that the results of the election should be reflected in the policies of the government that takes office and said that in the present system, small parties such as the Swedish Peoples Party wield too much influence.

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Jussi Halla-aho. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

"The fact that almost all parties in Finland can join with almost all others is clearly problematic from the perspective of voters' consumer protection rights. In such cases, voting has no real impact on decision-making and it is not at all possible to deduce from the election result what kinds of policies would be forthcoming," Halla-aho remarked.

Green leader stresses climate targets

Pekka Haavisto, chair of the Green Party, which made significant strides in the election to push its seat count up to 20, said that his party is not prepared to compromise on climate targets.

“Climate targets are an issue on which we will not compromise. The continuity of life on the planet, our wellbeing, our economies are entirely dependent on our environment. Eight parties have signed up to the climate goal or keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees. I believe that it is possible to find consensus on ways to do that,” he told the gathering.

Haavisto also listed climate change as one of the central issues in upcoming European Parliament elections. He said that Finland, Europe and the world need a strong EU that can deal with the challenges raised by climate change, the decline of bio-diversity and technological development.

Left Alliance chair calls out "inhumane" activation model

Speaking in the southwestern cities of Turku and Salo, Left Alliance chair Li Andersson called for an end low wages paid to foreign workers and the complete dismantling of what she described as the inhumane and failed activation model, which penalises job seekers in the labour market if they do not meet certain conditions for maintaining their unemployment benefits. She said it is not enough to get rid of the system, but said it is necessary to develop the local labour market as well as worker competence.

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Left Alliance chair Li Andersson. Image: Roni Lehti / Lehtikuva

"The transformation of the labour market, the fragmentation of employee contracts and the growth in the demand for expertise means that people must have the option of self-directed study much more than today and the educational offering must be opened up at all levels of schooling," Andersson said.

The party leader talked of the implementation at the European level of a Green New Deal model that would create new jobs by reducing emissions. The Left Alliance was one of the recent election's big winners adding four new parliamentary seats to take its complement of MPs to 16.

Centre Party calls for support for families and pensioners

Head of the Centre Party’s parliamentary group and a frontrunner to replace Juha Sipilä as party chair later this year, Antti Kaikkonen, spoke to party faithful in Hyvinkää and Helsinki. He made a case for improving the incomes of families and pensioners.

"This country must be able to increase the incomes of all cash-strapped families, provide additional home assistance and preventive services and ensure that people have the option to choose their children’s care [services]. It must also ensure that no young people are lost after completing their primary education," he declared.

Kaikkonen reminded SDP leader Rinne of the promise he made last year to increase the pensions of poor retirees by 100 euros.

Essayah "perplexed" by coalition talks

Christian Democratic Party chair Sari Essayah said that she was perplexed by the array of questions that SDP chair Antti Rinne posed a survey he sent to all parliamentary groups in a bid to identify possible government coalition partners.

"The complete absence of a few questions caught my eye. Economic and finance policy have been initially addressed in separate talks involving the four largest parties. This is a rather curious set-up given that it [economic and finance policy] is the basis of the government programme," she observed.

Speaking at a gathering in Kuopio, Essayah said that her party indicated in its response to the survey that it would hardly join a government that would fundamentally undermine the profitability of work and entrepreneurship, likely referring to the SDP’s preference for hiking taxes to pay for social programmes. She added that from the perspective of families, three factors affect the profitability of work: income taxes, daycare fees and benefits.

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