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Healthcare unions propose five-year pay rise plan to tackle nursing shortage

Representatives are currently negotiating a new collective agreement for the social and healthcare sector.

Representatives from Tehy and SuPer speaking about collective agreement negotiations at a press conference on Wednesday Image: Lehtikuva

The Union of Health and Social Care Services - Tehy and the Finnish Union of Practical Nurses (SuPer) have proposed a "rescue" programme for the social and healthcare services sector to help solve the nationwide shortage of staff.

The programme would entail a 3.6 percent increase in healthcare workers' wages over five years, in addition to the standard wage increases guaranteed each year in employment contracts.

According to the unions, the healthcare industry is currently facing a crisis, and raising wages would help tackle Finland's severe nursing shortage.

They demand that the government commit to funding their programme, which they believe would help attract and retain healthcare workers in the long term.

The programme would be separate from the collective agreements which govern pay and working conditions in the social and healthcare sector.

The organisations note that labour and employer representatives will discuss the details of the collective agreements independently, while the programme of pay rises should come on top of those deals and should be funded by the state.

The additional wage increase would raise the base salary of a hospital nurse by approximately 490 euros and that of a practical nurse by approximately 430 euros over five years.

According to estimates by Tehy and SuPer, the programme would cost 306–353 million euros annually. The sum includes all labour costs incurred by employers.

"There are no other options here. This [programme] would amount to about 300 million euros and the current healthcare expenditure is 20 billion a year. In this case, it is a completely realistic amount, and in short, a realistic goal," Tehy chair Millariikka Rytkönen stated at a virtual event on Wednesday.

Collective agreement talks entering the final stretch

Negotiations over wages and working conditions in the social and healthcare sector are reportedly in the final stages, as the collective agreement is set to expire at the end of February.

The largest sector-wide agreement in Finland, it covers about 180,000 employees.

Tehy and SuPer have demanded a higher-than-average increase in wages for healthcare workers owing to the existing staff shortage, which they believe will only worsen in the future due to high turnover and retirement rates.

However, employer's organisation KT has said that it considers the pay hike unreasonably high, as municipalities would not have the funds required. In Finland, public funding for healthcare, including worker's salaries, comes from tax revenues.

According to KT's estimates, raising nurses' monthly salaries by an average of 3.9 percent this year would cost municipalities around 332 million a year, and would require a considerable increase in municipal taxes.

If employees were given a salary increase of 300 euros in one go (an 11.7 percent hike), the annual costs would rise to nearly 1 billion euros.

Employee organisations in other sectors have agreed to pay rises for employees in collective agreement negotiations. In January, The board of the Industrial Union approved a 2 percent rise in wages for the Finnish tech industry.