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Other municipalities using same salary system wreaking havoc for Helsinki city workers

The tech system firm's CEO says the main issue is adequate training.

File photo of Helsinki City Hall. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

In just a few months, communities around Finland will start working on the wellbeing services counties that are replacing the country's old system of hundreds of individual municipal social and health care services.

When that happens at the beginning of next year, more than 200,000 people will effectively have new employers that pay them for their work.

Nearly half of Finland's 21 new wellbeing service counties plan to use the same salary payment system that has continued to cause major problems in Helsinki since it rolled out in the spring.

Due to the salary database system's issues, many capital city workers have been left unpaid, underpaid and there have even been cases of former employees being paid for work they didn't do.

The problems at the City of Helsinki, which is Finland's biggest employer, have continued into the summer.

The Minister of Local Government, Sirpa Paatero (SDP), told Yle on Sunday that she wants to receive a comprehensive report about the problems in Helsinki so that similar issues do not happen as social and healthcare reforms roll out.

Experience with system since 2021

Some of the areas that are using — or are rolling out — the system that's caused so many headaches for city workers in the capital include Western Uusimaa, Vantaa and Kerava.

Kimmo Sarekoski, Western Uusimaa's wellbeing services HR preparation director, said he has followed the difficulties in Helsinki with a bit of concern.

However, the region started using the system, made by IT firm Sarastia, at the beginning of 2021. But unlike Helsinki, which is using the system exclusively, Espoo is only using it partially and handling the rest of the job internally.

"Espoo has been using the system since last year, and 60 percent of our payments have been made with that system," he explained.

"Because of this, it's likely we will see fewer mistakes," Sarekoski said.

CEO: Proper training, data transfer vital

Mika Kantola, the CEO of Sarastia, the company behind the salary database system said he feels for the Helsinki city employees who have dealt with salary problems over the past months, but that there's nothing wrong with the technology itself.

"The system pays salaries based on the information which is entered into it," he said.

Noting that building massive, new operations from the ground up is not easy, Kantola said it is very important to train staff and get them used to new routines.

He added that he does not have concerns that the system will be strained by the heavy workload when welfare counties start using the system in earnest.

Another matter is for the regional services getting the new system up and running with the correct transfer of data from old databases.

"Of course, along with our clients, we will correct all eventual errors as quickly as possible," Kantola said.

Big change

Meanwhile, Anne Sivula, the county HR preparation director in Vantaa and Kerava, said she was concerned about the problems in Helsinki.

However, the transition to set up the wellbeing county of Vantaa and Kerava will be easier as the city of Kerava already uses Sarastia for its payroll needs.

"The payroll workers will not have to learn a new system" she explained.

Despite that, Sivula acknowledged that setting up the wellbeing county will still require a good deal of effort, because while Kerava uses Sarastia for its payroll, Vantaa's social and health care services currently shares another system with the Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital district (HUS).

However, she said that dialogue with the Sarastia company has been continual.

"This will inevitably be a big change. Everything probably won't go perfectly at the beginning of the year, but work is being done to make the transition as smooth as possible for the employees," Sivula said.