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A record wave of spring strikes?

Could strikes affect your home heating or vacation plans this spring? Check out this comprehensive labour market survey.

Contracts run out in late March for 100s of thousands of public sector employees including teachers, nurses and police. Some groups are demanding raises that local governments say they cannot afford. Image: Anni Reenpää / Lehtikuva
Yle News

Clashes in the Finnish labour market seen last autumn and now being seen in the forestry products industry could well turn into a wave of strikes as contracts expire in a wide range of sectors.

Casting a shadow over the labour scene is a 2016 government-sponsored competitiveness pact that introduced 24 additional hours of annual unpaid work. Both employers and unions are keeping a close watch on talks underway in the chemicals and food processing industries.

The success or failure of negotiations in those sectors is likely to set the stage for the spring.

Yle News' All Points North podcast took an in-depth look at Finland's collective agreement process earlier this month. You can listen to it via the embedded player (below), on Yle Areena, Spotify, iTunes or your favourite podcast player using the RSS feed.

January: A strike by the paper workers' union

A paper worker's strike which started on Monday has shut down paper, board and pulp mills, as well as sawmills and pressboard plants around the country.

Forest industry products are a key export for Finland. Employers have estimated that the strike will cost the national economy about one billion euros, and the state 47 million in lost tax revenues. On the union side, the Confederation of Salaried Employees (STTK) estimates the total cost at no more than 70 million euros.

No firm end date for the strike has been announced other than it depends on agreement on the terms of a new contract. The paper workers' union initially called a two-week strike, extending it to three weeks after employers imposed a three-day lockout at 12 mills.

- The strike began on 27 January and affects 110 companies with over 17,000 workers.

- Parties to the dispute: Paper Workers' Union, Industrial Union, Trade Union Pro, Finnish Forest Industries.

- Negotiations are continuing.

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Right now, it is likely that the Paper Workers' Union strike will continue until 17 February. The employers' grouping Finnish Forest Industries has announced a three-day lockout at 12 paper, board, and pulp mills beginning on 10 February. Image: Helena Rosenblad / Yle

Disputes in electrical workers' strikes

The Finnish Electrical Workers' Union has carried out several labour actions over the winter months. The longest lasting strike was sparked off by a dispute over the position of shop stewards who handle members' affairs at individual places of work. The employers' grouping Technology Industries of Finland considers the strike illegal.

Unusual features of this action are that the union is providing members an unusually high rate of strike pay, 200 euros a day, and criticism from the Industrial Union, whose vice-chair has accused the Electrical Workers' Union of misusing its right to strike.

- The Electrical Workers' Union strike over the status of shop stewards resumes on 30 January.

- The Electrical Workers' Union met for mediated talks with the Technology Industries of Finland on Monday.

- Electrical Workers' Union members started strikes in support of paper workers on Monday.

Story continues after photo.

A strike in the chemical industry sector set to start on 10 February may close down facilities including Neste oil refineries, which the company says could cause fuel shortages within two weeks. Image: Kimmo Hiltunen / Yle

February: Chemical sector strike would threaten holiday flights

A two-week strike in the chemical industry sector would close down Neste's refineries in Porvoo and Naantali. Shortages at Neste-owned petrol stations would likely start to be seen within a couple of weeks, causing problems for both professional road transport and private motorists.

If the strike goes ahead, its effects will also be felt in air and maritime transport. If it coincides with spring school sports holidays, the impact on holiday flights could be significant. According to the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, all Finnair flights departing Helsinki use fuel from Neste's refineries.

Neste has said that the strike would reduce supplies of heating oil, and has urged consumers to make preparations by ordering fuel in advance.

The chemical industry strike was scheduled to start on Monday 27 January. Minister of Employment Tuula Haatainen delayed the start by two weeks at the request of the National Conciliator on the grounds of its detrimental impact on the basic functions of society.

- Chemical industry strike threatened for 10-24 February.

- Could impact the availability of fuel for both air and road traffic.

- Parties: The Chemical Industry Federation of Finland, the Industrial Union, Trade Union Pro.

- Mediation continuing.

Neste has also warned that a fuel shortage could endanger public emergency services and deliveries of foodstuffs.

Contracts expiring in February

Among the contracts expiring at the end of January are those covering work by Service Union United PAM members in retail trade and real estate management, as well as train drivers in the Railway Workers' Union RAU, and lorry and bus drivers who are members of the Transport Workers’ Union AKT.

These unions also want to get rid of extra annual hours while Service Sector Employers Palta wants to keep them in new contracts. Although contract talks are expected to be tough, none of these unions has yet threatened to go on strike to press demands.

In contrast, strikes have been scheduled by unions in the rubber products industry and the glass and ceramics industry to start on 10 February if new contracts are not worked out by then.

Also, the electrical power and energy facilities of 11 cities could be hit by strikes at the start of February. Among those would be Helsinki's Helen, Vantaa's Vantaan Energia and Tampere's Tampereen Sähkölaitos.

- 11 power companies have been warned of strike action 1-8 February.

- The energy sector organization Finnish Energy says a strike could disrupt electricity and heat distribution services.

- Helsinki's Helen, Vantaa's Vantaan Energia and Tampere's Tampereen Sähkölaitos would be among the companies affected.

- Parties: Finnish Energy, Trade Union Pro, the Engineering officer's union SKL and Federation of Public and Private Sector Employees Jyty.

Story continues after photo.

Trade Union Pro wants to eliminate extra annual hours agreed in the competitiveness pact, as well as guaranteed "living wages", although it has not set a target for pay raises. The contract covering retail trade employees expires on Friday. Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

March: Teachers, social workers and nurses

The toughest upcoming labour market talks may not be in big money export industries, but rather in the public sector. In the worst scenario negotiations could stretch into the summer. Most unions said their top demand was the elimination of extra competitive pact working hours.

The hardest stances, at least in public, are being taken by the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals Tehy and the group Local Government Employers KT.

Tehy announced as early as last year that it will be demanding that lagging salaries for nurses catch up with those in export sectors. To do so, it is pressing for 1.8 percentage point annual increases over a ten year period higher than a two-year 3.3 percent increase recently agreed for export sector employees.

In turn, KT has repeatedly said that local governments simply cannot afford to pay more.

The Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors JHL has announced that it would be ready to call a strike if its lower-paid members, such as operating room cleaners, are not included in salary raises.

In March, contracts run out for hundreds of thousands of employees in the public sector including 420,000 municipal workers, and church and state employees.

There are many other groups that will be pressing demands for more pay - teachers, police, youth workers, doctors and university employees. Teachers have not yet released details of their upcoming demands but talks will certainly include cutting out extra annual hours.

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