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Industrial workers, employers back round table in protracted wage talks

Unions and employers’ representatives remain far apart in wage negotiations.

Minna Helle haastattelussa
Minne Helle, Executive Director for Industrial Relations at Technology Finland. Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

Negotiations over wage hikes for some 100,000 workers in industrial sectors continued on Thursday without the national labour conciliator Vuokko Pietilä, as the two parties continued wrangling over both wage rises and working time.

Before talks began Minna Helle, Executive Director for Industrial Relations at the employers’ umbrella organisation Technology Finland told Yle that the negotiations were extremely challenging, and were focused on pay rises with other issues largely resolved.

Helle said that it was important that talks continued without further disruption in the labour market, after a strike and lock-out shut down production for more than a week.

Electricians had on Thursday launched their own strike directed at Technology Finland member companies in northern Finland, in an effort to expedite negotiations.

Uncertain times

"It is not in anyone’s interest that this uncertainty continues," said Helle.

Industrial Union chair Riku Aalto said that negotiations had gone on long enough.

"We have of course been in talks for a long time, five months in all, and of course we know pretty well what the issues are and we will try to reach the kind of solution that will give a result soon," said Aalto, who added that the unions are ready for further industrial action so long as terms and pay for the next two years remain unresolved.

Pietilä had before Christmas proposed a two-year deal with a 2.4 percent pay increase, but that was rejected by both sides. Employers’ representatives felt it was too high a pay hike, while the unions felt it was too low. A previous proposal had offered a 1.6 percent pay increase.

For someone on the median salary of 3,079 euros per month, that would mean a pay bump of just over 73 euros per month.

The industrial sector is important for collective bargaining across the economy, with the pay rises agreed there expected to guide pay levels in other sectors as they negotiate their own collective agreements in the coming months.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), some 90 percent of the Finnish workforce is covered by collective bargaining of one form or another and agreements in a sector apply to all workers in that sector whether or not they are members of a union.

Collective bargaining sets the tone

Collective bargaining, then, is of huge importance to the economy as a whole.

Negotiations this time are complicated by the competitiveness pact (the so-called ‘kiky) introduced in 2016 which introduced an additional three days of working time each year for almost every worker in Finland.

This drive for competitiveness was instigated by then-Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, and was implemented in different ways in different industries.

In the industrial sector, the extra hours were written into collective agreements as a time-limited appendix to the current deal, and the union views that as an expired concession of no consequence to current talks.

The employers’ side, however, says that if the extra ‘kiky’ hours are not in the new deal, then pay rises agreed will have to be lower

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