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Service sector strike pulls warm school meals, talks begin

The strike will affect some 20,000 children in Turku until Friday.

Finnish law guarantees free warm meals every school day. Image: Kalle Niskala / Yle
Yle News

Two service sector unions declared a local strike on Wednesday, causing Turku schools and 24-hour daycare centres to offer more than 20,000 children only cold meals until Friday.

The Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors (JHL) and the Federation of Public and Private Sector Employees (Jyty) announced the industrial action on Wednesday to protest newly-proposed collective bargaining agreements by service sector company Arkea. The unions extended the strike to affect 24-hour daycares on Thursday.

Turku education division director Timo Jalonen said he admits that the city is breaking the law by denying children warm meals. The city of Turku and Arkea also said that they consider the strike itself to be unlawful according to standing collective bargaining agreements, and because the strike warning had not been issued two weeks in advance.

Jalonen said that the city's hands are tied.

"We're between a rock and a hard place here. But if there aren't enough employees, we can't just let anyone prepare food for young children," Jalonen said.

The Regional State Administrative Agency (Avi) for Southwestern Finland reproached the cities of Turku and Kaarina in 2018, also for not providing warm lunches during a JHL strike.

Jalonen said that no company in Turku could provide school food for the entire city during a strike. Fazer Food Services will provide 24-hour daycares with meals, but lacks the resources to serve every school in the region.

Messy start, new negotiations

Jalonen said that news of the strike and its consequences did not reach schools in time on Wednesday.

"Some students didn't know to bring their own food, but hopefully everyone is on the same page today," he said Thursday.

Jalonen maintained that the situation was unfortunate, but that packed lunches are commonplace around the world. He said that Turku schoolchildren should have no problem preparing their own meals for a few days.

However, real estate and cleaning services may be at greater risk of becoming backlogged, especially if the strike continues into next week.

Service company Arkea said on Thursday it would meet with JHL and Jyty representatives at 10 am on Tuesday, 12 November in an attempt to settle the terms of their collective bargaining agreement with union workers.

Negotiations broke down on Tuesday last week when JHL walked out of the talks after Arkea refused to budge on salaries.

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