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Minister backtracks over Posti outsourcing, sets up working group

Finland’s postal strike is in its second week. 

Sirpa Paatero Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

The minister responsible for state ownership steering has admitted she did know about plans to move 700 workers at the state-owned postal firm Posti to a different collective agreement, and set up a working group to report on possible way forwards in the deadlocked dispute.

She had earlier said that she was not asked for approval by bosses at the state-owned postal firm Posti when they weakened the terms and conditions for around 700 workers in parcel sorting offices.

The company transferred the workers, who were previously employed directly by Posti, to its subsidiary Posti Palvelut.

The minister, Sirpa Paatero, had on Thursday morning told commercial broadcaster MTV that she was not at any point asked for her approval of the move. But in a statement released on Thursday afternoon she clarified that she had been informed about the plan in general terms before it happened but was not specifically asked for permission.

At the same time, their terms and conditions of employment were dramatically weakened as they were covered by a different collective agreement not negotiated by the postal workers’ union PAU.

PAU’s strike started on 11 November and negotiations remain deadlocked. The union has rejected a compromise proposal for the delivery workers, which would have left their pay and conditions unchanged.

The sticking point is the 700 workers transferred to a different agreement. Palta, which negotiates for the employer, said that they had no jurisdiction over the matter.

Paatero announced on Thursday afternoon that she has established a working group to look at possible solutions to the dispute.

The group consists of Jukka Ahtela, who works at the labour conciliator's office, Lauri Ihalainen, who used to head up the blue-collar trade union confederation SAK, Lasse Laatunen of the EK Confederation of Finnish Industries and Ann Selin of the Pam trade union.

No talks planned

"It looks like the problem is these 700 parcel sorting workers, for whom no resolution has been found," said national labour conciliator Vuokko Piekkala on Wednesday evening.

"The rest of the texts have been discussed and moved forward constructively. Now we wait to see how the situation develops."

No new talks are currently planned, with the employer refusing to look at the 700 workers’ situation and the union sticking by its demands.

PAU says it cannot agree to end the strike until the 700 are back in their collective agreement, and union activists are planning to demonstrate outside Parliament in Helsinki on Thursday. The union has sharply criticised 'collective agreement shopping'.

That phrase refers to the practice of employers unilaterally switching workers from one collective agreement to another, usually with worse terms and conditions.

Collective agreements rule labour market

Finland has broad collective agreements covering more than 90 percent of the workforce, with employers in those sectors obliged to pay the minimum wage for that sector and all the salary supplements that apply.

Those agreements usually run for two years at a time, with unions obliged to avoid industrial action when negotiations are not underway.

With talks between postal workers and their employer deadlocked, sympathy strikes are spreading across the Finnish economy.

Maritime unions began refusing to load cargo on passenger ferries’ card decks from 6am on Thursday, while aviation workers have refused to handle post at airports.

Truck drivers are also on an overtime ban and are refusing to swap shifts until the postal workers’ dispute is resolved.