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Municipal strikes shut down services across Finland's largest cities

Municipal worker unions are seeking wage increases and salary flexibility.

The strike will have a big impact on daycare centres, among other things. Image: Antti Kolppo / Yle

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Strikes involving more than 80,000 municipal workers began across Finland's largest cities on Tuesday. The strikes were prompted by growing frustration surrounding workers' wage stagnation and labour shortages.

The municipal strikes started on Tuesday morning as municipal employers and workers failed to agree a new collective agreement to cover 425,000 municipal employees.

Municipal unions have demanded a two percent salary increase next year, claiming such a hike would be in line with raises agreed in other collective agreements in Finland.

The strike involves numerous unions, including Juko, the Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff (Akava), the Public Sector Union (JAU), and the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors (JHL).

Unless a settlement is reached, the strike will last until 9 May. A number of municipal services in the cities of Helsinki, Espoo, Kauniainen, Vantaa, Jyväskylä, Turku, Rovaniemi, Kuopio, Oulu, and Tampere have been affected by the strikes.

An additional strike by private school employees is also affecting 17 educational institutions in Helsinki and Tampere.

Following closures expected

Strike's impact

With many daycare centres and schools closed, families have been forced to make last-minute arrangements.

Older students report that this strike, along with previous ones, have greatly affected their learning environment and structure. School closures have caused assignments to pile up and interrupted the curriculum for many students.

Hospitals are facing congestion as well and increased waiting times are expected in Helsinki and Jyväskylä as appointment booking services are hampered by a lack of staff.

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Poor working conditions

The municipal sector has suffered from labour shortages for several years.

A lack of early childhood education workers has cause particular problems. In Helsinki, for example, the issue has become a major crisis.

Chronic labour shortfalls have also led to a significant deterioration in working conditions in many municipal jobs. Unions have said the proposed wage increases are intended to alleviate the situation. The unions claim that current salaries are too low and do not adequately compensate for the demanding nature and increased responsibilities of such work.

Wage increases, chiefly for lowest earners

The primary goal of the unions is to get wage increases, especially for the lowest paid municipal employees.

According to the Earnings Income Index, the overall average wage in the municipal sector is four percent lower than on the private side, but it greatly varies between different professions in both.

Olli Luukkainen,chair of both Juko and OAJ, criticised the fact that in recent rounds of negotiations, the municipal sector has had to settle for small wage increases, if any at all.

Unions also want a salary programme for the municipal sector, with salary increase reserves set aside for salary costs over and above annual cost-of-living rises, with some saying that this is a precondition for agreeing to a settlement.

Unions have lamented that private sector workers are often paid higher wages than those spelled out in collective agreements, but this is less common in the municipal sector. This has led to a situation in which municipal sector wages do not develop at a similar pace to private sector wages. At the same time, this makes municipal sector jobs seem less attractive.

According to the unions, a pay programme could improve draw people towards municipal sector occupations and ensure that wages better reflect the demands of those jobs.

What do you think of the strike? Join the discussion via the comments below. You'll need an Yle ID, so sign up here. Comments are open on a trial basis until 13 May, with moderation each weekday between 10am and 5.30pm.