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Monday's papers: Saving jobs, pressure on Finnair, new traffic rules

Morning papers cover saving jobs, Finnair flight cuts, passenger rail traffic to Sweden and updated road traffic laws.

Finnairs Airbus A320-plan på Helsingfors-Vanda
Hufvudstadsbladet, reports a backlash from cabinet ministers. to reports of possible Finnair domestic service cuts. Image: Markku Ojala / AOP

Finland's largest circulation daily, Helsingin Sanomat, features an interview with Annika Rönni-Sällinen, who chairs PAM, the Service Union United, a trade union representing service sector workers in Finland.

As the paper points out, PAM has over 200,000 members working in the hospitality and restaurant sectors, shops, hairdressing salons, pharmacies, warehouses, service stations, cleaning and maintenance services, as well as technical fields.

Rönni-Sällinen told Helsingin Sanomat that a key issue for the labour union movement is preserving jobs and getting through the present crisis with temporary lay-offs rather than widespread dismissals.

Most contracts between employers and union that are up for renewal this spring were settled before the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic. Negotiations that were scheduled to expire at the end of March have been delayed until this autumn.

According to Rönni-Sällinen, workers and employers have now joined forces to save jobs, especially in the restaurant and travel industries.

"Restaurants should be rescued"

"Restaurants should be rescued. They are in an exceptional position, compared to other enterprises, because their operations are banned," Rönni-Sällinen argued.

She agreed with the view expressed by the Finnish Hospitality Association MaRa that the government's original plan to provide 123 million euros in support for restaurants is not enough. PAM and MaRa have put forward a joint proposal for a 350-million-euro package to bail out the sector.

Parliament is now looking at the bailout. Unions and employers' groups are also pressing for subsidies to help hotels and spas.

Rönni-Sällinen told Helsingin Sanomat that it is particularly important to prevent long-term unemployment, and urged lawmakers to provide funding that can be used to pay wages and salaries so that companies are confident enough about the future to keep workers on the payroll.

Pressure on Finnair

Yle reported Sunday that flight schedules due to take effect in July from national air carrier Finnair could extend a break in passenger flights to and from regional airports in Finland. According to Yle, the interruption in services that began in March because of the coronavirus crisis could continue for at least one year.

Finland's main Swedish-language daily, Hufvudstadsbladet, reports an immediate backlash, including pressure from cabinet ministers.

Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson tweeted that domestic flights must be reinstated as soon as the coronavirus situation allows. She said it's a matter of accessibility and the nation's competitiveness. "We need our export industry and our jobs more than ever," Henriksson wrote.

Henriksson later told Yle's Swedish-language service that discussions on the issue will probably be held with Finnair and she called on regional officials to be active in the matter.

Hufvudstadsbladet also reported a reaction from Finance Minister Katri Kulmuni who shared Henriksson's view and tweeted that that domestic flights should resume as soon Finland begins to recover from the coronavirus crisis. She urged that any speculation about domestic routes being totally eliminated be stopped before it even gets started.

Later on Sunday, Finnair issued a press release stating that any decisions about its post-summer services to domestic destinations will be made at a later date, based on developments in demand.

Passenger rail traffic to Sweden?

Rovaniemi's Lapin Kansa reports that the Greens, a member of Finland's current five-party coalition government plans to push for a major upgrade to rail connections to Sweden in order to open regular passenger rail traffic between the two countries.

Lapin Kansa quotes Green party leader and Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo as saying that the government's crisis package should include projects that promote climate polices.

One such project would be the electrification of the section of track between Laurila and Tornio in northern Finland.

"This would open the possibility of leaving Oulu by train in the evening and with one change in connections, arriving in Stockholm the next morning," Ohisalo said.

The Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency issued a study on the concept last month. According to its calculation, the economic benefits to the public sector would be zero.

Ohisalo disagreed, saying that land travel is becoming more popular and the Swedes even have a word for the feeling of climate guilt associated with airline travel.

"It would be worth improving rail connections to make them competitive with air travel," says Ohisalo.

The Greens leader added that people are increasingly less concerned about getting somewhere as quickly as possible.

"Travel itself is an [pleasant] experience when there are good connections and good trains. A connection to Sweden would be a good project for both sides. It would serve the travel sector in Finnish Lapland and it would be profitable," Ohisalo argued.

The evaluation made by the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency focused on the possible benefits to freight haulage of upgrading the rail connection. The agency considered the the value of passenger traffic on the route as being so low as to not even be worth including in its calculations.

At present passenger traffic is not possible on the route crossing the Swedish border because of a 20km section of track that is not electrified. The Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency says an electrification project, and modifying a bridge along the route would cost 14 million euros with another 10 million needed for switching and signals systems required by passenger trains.

New traffic rules

The Kuopio-based Savon Sanomat carries an extensive article reminding readers of an update to road traffic laws that come into effect from the beginning of June.

Among the changes it notes are the possibility of parking on the left side of streets where no ban is posted and the chance of drivers getting ticketed for driving too slowly on roads where a minimum speed limit is in force.

The use of winter tyres will no longer be determined by the calendar, as has been the case up until now. Instead, although the law mentions the period of November through the end of March for the standard use of studded snow tyres, drivers can use them at any time that road conditions make them a safer option.

Cyclists are also reminded that from 1 June, if they ride at dusk or in the dark, they need to not only have a red tail light, but also a visible light on the front of their bikes.

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