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Nurses' unions call off strike, preparing for mass resignations

The chair of nurses' union Tehy says the minister "broke the strike with a forced labour law".

Tehy chair, Millariikka Rytkönen (on left) and SuPer chair Silja Paavola. Image: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva

Healthcare worker groups Tehy and SuPer have cancelled a nurses' strike that was scheduled to begin on Wednesday, in response to the threat of a law that could effectively force striking nurses back to work.

The organisations' respective boards have decided that more vigorous industrial action is needed because the controversial Patient Safety Act was making progress in Parliament, according to a statement from Tehy on Tuesday.

If it is implemented, the Patient Safety Act would enable public healthcare sector administrators to order striking workers back on the job on grounds of ensuring patient safety.

The main disputes between healthcare workers and their employers hinge on pay and working conditions.

Tehy chair, Millariikka Rytkönen, tweeted (siirryt toiseen palveluun) on Tuesday afternoon that because the Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services, Aki Lindén, (SDP) was taking the legislation forward, the union was calling off Wednesday's strike, preparing for "mass resignations" and other measures.

Rytkönen said the decision was made "For the simple reason that Minister Lindén broke the legal strike action with forced labour."

The two-week strike that was scheduled to begin on Wednesday would have affected around 35,000 care workers across 13 hospital districts.

Meanwhile, the municipal employers' group (KT) chief Markku Jalonen criticised the nurses' unions' decision to prepare for mass resignations.

A statement issued later on Tuesday from KT, the Local Government and County Employers organisation called the move "completely irresponsible."

Jalonen claimed that nursing groups have refused to provide enough staff to ensure patient safety.

SuPer: Law wouldn't fix nurse shortage

"The nurse shortage [problem] must now be resolved and it will only be solved by improving pay and working conditions. It is not only a question for nurses, but for all of Finland," Rytkönen said, adding that many nurses are prepared to leave their jobs.

"This is a terribly sad situation that Finland's decision makers and employers have wanted to put care providers in such a situation. In fact, they pushed the nurses down a cliff and forgot them there," she said.

Meanwhile, SuPer chair Silja Paavola said the nurses' shortage problem would not go away on its own even if there was a Patient Safety Act.

On average, nurses earn about 600 euros less per month than the average Finn and one-fifth less than nurses in neighbouring Nordic countries. Employee unions claim low salaries have led to labour shortages which are impacting working conditions.

Edited at 18:37 to add comments from KT chief Markku Jalonen, with a previous edit clarifying the term resignations rather than redundancies.