Next spring, Finland's largest trade union for health and social care professionals, Tehy, plans to join forces Super, another union representing practical nurses, to demand a 1.8 percent annual wage increase every year until salaries in the sector are on par with salaries in male-dominated fields.
The average monthly salary for nurses in Finland is currently around 2,500 euros, while workers in industrial sectors tend to take home 500 euros more each month.
The nursing unions calculate that that gradual increase they seek would make wages in their line of work equal to average industrial sector wages by the year 2090. About 90 percent of the Tehy union's 160,000 members and 94 percent of Super's 90,000 union members are female.
"Tehy and Super are very realistic about Finland's economic situation. We are aware that there are members of our organizations that are insisting on 500 euros more each month right away, but that is not possible," says Tehy's leader Millariikka Rytkönen.
Not following the rules
Finland's top two industrial unions are currently negotiating a collective agreement that traditionally sets the bar for other union negotiations about working terms and conditions, for example, in the area of wage increases.
Rytkönen has reportedly annoyed her union colleagues and municipal decision-makers by breaking the unwritten rule about waiting for the first results before declaring her union's specific intentions.
"Each union negotiation should take into account the special characteristics of the sector in question. I don't understand how the industry sector could in any way speak for the social and health care sector. No, we most certainly will not accept this," she says.
Rytkönen says she is shocked by the amount of chauvinism she has encountered in her union work, a phenomenon most women don't dare to talk about. Very few of Finland's unions are led by women, and she says a "boy's club" mentality persists.
More nurses have been promised
Prime Minister Antti Rinne's left-leaning government promised to improve Finland's nurse-to-patient ratio upon taking office, in the face of an acute shortage of nurses. In elderly homes, for example, the new rules require a ratio of seven nurses for every ten senior residents. In addition, the coalition has made several assurances that it will promote gender wage equality in Finland's job market, with 70 mentions of gender equality in its government programme, for example.
"They are the ones that started this whole thing, not just us. I am confused when I read about them praising the work of social and health care professionals and hear them talking about us in their speeches, but when it comes down to it, all of their lofty promises are forgotten," Rytkönen says.
Money from cuts to corporate subsidies
Finland's municipal workers have already weighed in that the 1.8 percent yearly salary increase would set them back an additional 8 billion euros. Tehy and Super predict an annual added expense of between 100 and 150 million euros.
Rytkönen says it is up to the state to help the cash-strapped municipalities cover the difference. When asked how the state will come up with the money, the Tehy leader says it's not her job to decide, but she does have a suggestion.
"I've often wondered why corporate subsidies are such a sacred cow. They can't be touched. […] That's where we could find the 100 million that we would need."