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Crunch time for Finland's competitiveness pact

Late Tuesday, there were still differences of opinion between the Metalworkers' Union and the Federation of Finnish Technology Industries over a 24-hour extension of annual working time. That stirred fears that the whole competitiveness pact might collapse after months of wrangling.

Lauri Lyly
Lauri Lyly Image: Yle

The deadline for negotiations on a so-called competitiveness pact for the Finnish economy passed on Tuesday afternoon with no clear resolution of a key sector's dispute. Now the main players on the Finnish labour scene face a Wednesday afternoon deadline to accept or reject the deal as it stands.

The process is the latest iteration of Finland's traditional central wage agreements, hammered out between unions and employers' groups with cajoling and incentives from the government.

It has been the prime item on the agenda of Prime Minister Juha Sipilä's government, which took office a year ago. The idea is try to make Finnish industry and exports more competitive with those of rival countries as a means to pull the country out of a recession that has dragged on for most of the past decade.

Metal and tech in doubt

On Tuesday afternoon, there were still sharp differences of opinion between the powerful Metalworkers' Union and the Federation of Finnish Technology Industries over a 24-hour extension of annual working time. That stirred fears that the whole pact might fall through after months of wrangling.

The first government figure to comment on the threatened collapse of the talks was Minister of Economic Affairs Olli Rehn. He issued a terse statement saying "I call on the Federation of Finnish Technology Industries and the Metalworkers' Union to return to the negotiating table immediately," Rehn said.

Both Lauri Lyly, head of the main SAK labour federation, and Jyri Häkämies, chair of the main employers' group EK, urged the sides in the metal and tech sector to strike a deal.

Later in the evening Lyly told Yle that the metal union was ready to return to the table if invited.

Stubb bullish

Finance Minister Alexander Stubb, meanwhile, expressed confidence that a deal would ultimately be reached. With unions set to ratify the deal on Wednesday, Stubb said the cabinet will meet on Thursday morning to consider how the state can support the deal with long-promised tax relief.

Any such cuts will of course depend on evaluations by the central labour market federations as to whether enough of their member unions have signed on to make the pact sufficiently comprehensive.

Decisions by the technology industries group and the metalworkers to stay out of the deal would well be a death knell for the whole venture.

Wednesday deadline could stretch

The Trade Union Pro, representing clerical workers, said on Tuesday that it would pull out of the agreement unless an agreement was reached in the metals and tech sector. The Service Union United PAM said it would stick with the process, but that it would need more to consider the wording. Its board is scheduled to meet at 10 am Wednesday.

The central organisations are to decide at 3 pm Wednesday whether a sufficient number of unions are on board for the pact to be workable – but such deadlines have tended to stretch, particularly in recent years.

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