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Cleaners fear sanctions after late strike cancellation

The strike was cancelled late on Wednesday night after a deal was reached on pay.

Kaksi miestä seisoo kiviseinän vieressä kirkkaassa auringonpaisteessa Turun kauppatorilla.
Shop stewards Esa Hoppendorff and Arvo Mäkilä say that many were surprised by the strike cancellation. Image: Kalle Mäkelä / Yle
Yle News

Cleaners up and down Finland were surprised by an agreement to avert a strike over pay and conditions that was due to start on Thursday — leaving some unable to get to work in time for their shifts, once they found out the strike was off.

On Wednesday morning the PAM service sector union and employers in the real estate maintenance sector rejected a proposal from the National Labour conciliator, and announced that the three-day strike would go ahead as planned.

Talks continued behind the scenes, however, and at the eleventh hour union leaders and employers agreed a deal. PAM members were sent an SMS message at 22:45 about the strike cancellation.

The new collective agreement will see pay rise by some 130 euros a month for the lowest paid workers over two years.

That is short of the 200 euro monthly raise targeted by PAM and their members, but some concessions over parental leave and rest days were also achieved.

The very late deal left many cleaners in the lurch, however, as they could not get to work in time for their shifts and now fear sanctions from their employers.

Shop steward worries

Esa Hoppendorff, the chief shop steward at ISS Palvelu's south-west Finland division, said that he only noticed the press release about the deal on Thursday morning.

He said he was not the only one to be surprised by the strike cancellation, and stressed that his members were ready to walk out and fight for their rights.

"147 Whatsapp messages came during the night," said Hoppendorff.

Many cleaners are now worried they might suffer sanctions because of the late cancellation, according to Hoppendorff. He said some angry calls have already been made by employers.

"A lot of people didn't set an alarm, and there's been a lot of horrible rubbish from the employers' side asking 'why haven't you come to work'," said Hoppendorff. "This is a big issue among the workforce, whether you will get sanctioned if you don't make it to work on time."

The deal itself has also been criticised by some rank and file union members, according to the western Finland deputy shop steward at Sol Palvelu, Arvo Mäkilä.

"There are really mixed feelings about this," said Mäkilä. "The pay rises were short of what we hoped for, in my opinion. On the other hand some additions to the text were agreed, but pay was the number one priority for us."

'This won't help labour shortage'

One week ago Mäkilä stood on picket lines in front of a hotel in central Turku, and at that point a pay raise of 200 euros a month was the goal.

"That won't be achieved now," said Mäkilä. "The first raise this year is pretty much in line with what is considered necessary. But next year it comes quite late and is a small percentage increase. That leaves it lagging behind rising prices."

The first raise in the new agreement will be 4.4 percent in May of this year, with the second 1.8 percent increase scheduled for August 2024.

Hoppendorff says that the atmosphere among union members is surprised and a little disappointed, because the goal was significantly higher pay increases.

He says the deal is not going to increase the attractiveness of the sector.

"That's exactly the worry, when we have a terrible labour shortage, and this won't improve that situation at least."

PAM promises help

PAM's regional director for Pirkanmaa, Elisa Penders, said that the deal was a surprise to everyone.

"A deal is of course better than constant fighting, but it requires a lot of work to get the message out that a deal has been reached," said Penders.

Penders says it is understandable that nobody is reading her union's website or checking the text messages in the middle of the night

Some cleaners' shifts start in the middle of the night.

"If it isn't possible to get to work, or a worker turns up late, then it is good to contact [the union's] regional office," said Penders. "We'll check that nobody loses out financially."

Employers have also agreed that nobody should suffer because of this, according to Penders.

Most workers in Finland are covered by a collective agreement signed off by unions and employers. It governs minimum wages and conditions for everyone working in a sector, regardless of whether or not they are a member of the union.

These agreements normally run for two years at a time, with scheduled increases in the minimum wages offered in the sector.

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