It’s a big week for around two million trade union members in Finland, as negotiations over a far-reaching change to terms and conditions of employment come to a close. Helsingin Sanomat devotes its front page and two more inside to explaining and analysing what the government’s so-called “competitiveness accord” actually is, why it matters and what’s likely to happen.
The agreement has been hammered out over the course of a year between the government, employers’ groups and trade unions. It will freeze salaries next year, make workers and not employers liable for social security costs, extend working hours by 24 hours a year, and cut holiday allowance by 30 percent for public sector workers. “So why would any unions agree to these measures,” the paper asks, “when they’re so weighted in favour of employers?”
The answer, Hesari says, is that the alternative offered by the government is even worse. Not so much carrot-and-stick as stick-and-bigger-stick. If workers don’t agree to tighten their belts, the coalition will bring in 1.5 billion euros’ worth of cuts which will hit families, students and the sick.
Plus, the government has promised to offer some tax reductions, and in any case it claims this agreement will boost competitiveness in Finland to the tune of creating 40,000 jobs. However, “some do question how effective this agreement will actually be,” the report points out.
As for this week, we’ll find out today whether all the unions are prepared to alter their collective bargaining agreements in line with the “competitiveness accord” and by tomorrow we’ll know how many employees across the country will be affected. On Thursday the government is likely to announce what tax breaks it can promise in return, and if the deal goes ahead, will officially cancel its proposed 1.5 billion euro cuts programme. Finally on Friday, if all goes to plan, Finland’s big union confederations will get together and formally agree to the changes, making them binding.
Hospital misconduct cover-up
Turun Sanomat this morning carries an update on their long-running investigation into misconduct and mistreatment of patients inside Turku hospital’s G1 ward – a geriatric facility in the town’s Kupittaa district. In February this year the paper revealed that Turku health authorities had known since at least 2013 of problems on the ward, including neglect, theft of drugs and malpractice. Internal investigations had led to ten staff receiving warnings. Police had been informed about alleged thefts of medication, but not of the other misconduct claims.
Since Turun Sanomat published the story, in which it claimed that mistreatment of elderly patients on the ward had been going on for years, managers from Turku’s welfare authorities admitted to keeping health regulators in the dark about the serious neglect and misconduct that they had discovered on the ward.
The paper lists further allegations which have since come to light, including assault, and the discovery that two staff members were unqualified and posing as doctors. A police investigation, due to report in August this year, currently suspects a further ten people of crimes, and officers say this number could grow.
Meanwhile a spokesperson for Valvira, Finland’s health regulator, tells the paper that initial findings from their own investigation suggest that a lack of leadership and the unit’s distance from the rest of the hospital led to the culture of care on the ward going so wrong. He promises that what happened on ward G1 “will not be forgotten”, and pledges that “lessons will be learnt” for the whole of Finland.
Ilta-Sanomat this morning reports on an incident with less serious repercussions. Last Tuesday Bjarne Winberg, was relaxing at his home on the peaceful island of Kamsholmen in the Sipoo archipelago. As darkness fell, Winberg noticed a large boat glide up to the shared jetty. He watched from a distance as a trail of uniformed men, with backpacks and what appeared to be guns, silently filed off the boat and into the forest.
Fearing for the worst, Winberg dialled the emergency services. “Of course I was scared. I crept into my own boat and got straight off the island, to be on the safe side.”
Fortunately for the islanders, the landing turned out not to be an invading militia, but an army exercise, the organisers of which had forgotten to inform residents that they would be landing on Kamsholmen. “It didn’t occur to the organisers that someone might get scared,” one organiser said.
Winberg, who has now recovered from the shock, says the incident hasn’t aroused negative feelings against the army. “The only problem was that I didn’t know about it,” he insists.