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Municipal labour agreement talks break down, possible overtime strike on Tuesday

Employers and employees in Finland's local government can't see eye to eye on compensation for cuts to holiday bonus pay, which may lead to overtime bans in municipal health and social care.

Kuntatyönantajien työmarkkinajohtaja Markku Jalonen ja OAJ:n puheenjohtaja Olli Luukkainen kunta-alan virka- ja työehtosopimusneuvotteluissa Helsingissä maanantaina 29. tammikuuta.
KT labour market director Markku Jalonen met with OAJ teacher union head Olli Luukkainen on January 29 Image: Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva

Talks between representative organisations of Finland's municipal employers and unions acting on behalf of the close to half a million employees of local government shut down shortly after they were scheduled to resume on Sunday. Nurse and social worker unions now threaten a strike banning overtime and shift swaps for Tuesday, if a suitable agreement can't be reached.

The negotiating parties have not given up on the process, but no new date for more talks has been announced.

The KT advocacy organisation for local government employers says union demands for compensation for lost holiday bonus pay are unacceptable. KT's labour market director Markku Jalonen says the workers are asking for the equivalent of 300 million euros in compensation over the two years.

No to overtime

Two unions that have been involved in the negotiations plan to call for limited strikes on Tuesday unless the compensation demands are met. The nursing union SuPer and the health and social care worker union Tehy say their workers will refuse overtime and shift swap requests starting at 7 am Tuesday, as part of the industrial action. If the strike goes forward, it is expected to affect approximately 130,000 employees in the municipal sector.

The government's so-called competitiveness pact temporarily cut the holiday bonus of over half a million municipal and state workers between 2017 and 2019. When the deal was finally approved after months of haggling, many public sector workers were angry and confused about why they have been singled out, when the government had given the impression that the idea was to encourage a collective belt-tightening.

Expired agreements could lead to expanded industrial action

Finland's system of holiday bonuses is a unique form of so-called "thirteenth salary". Practices vary and are usually agreed upon in collective agreements. The amount that is awarded depends on salary level and how long a person has worked, but it is normally 50 percent of the total holiday pay that workers have earned that year.

The collective labour agreements between many employers and 1.2 million workers expired on January 31, presenting the risk of expanded labour strikes in many business areas if agreements on work terms and conditions moving forward are not reached. Many unions are arguing for salary increases now that the Finnish economy is improving.

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