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Parliament begins debate on closure of bars, restaurants

The government has proposed that licensed premises close from next Monday, but the schedule for passing the bill is tight.

Krista Kiuru ja Sanna Marin.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) and Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru (SDP) at the parliamentary debate on Tuesday. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

Parliament has begun considering the government's proposal to close bars and restaurants from 8 to 28 March in regions in the spreading and community transmission phase of the epidemic.

The proposal is being heard as a matter of urgency, with the government aiming to bring the closure order into force by next Monday.

According to a report (external link in Finnish) by Helsingin Sanomat, Speaker of Parliament Anu Vehviläinen (Cen) and Secretary-General Maija-Leena Paavola sent a letter to Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) on Monday criticising the government for rushing Parliament's discussion of the proposal.

Marin replied that the government's schedule is based on an estimated timetable provided by Speaker of Parliament Vehviläinen, according to which it should be possible to discuss in Parliament such matters of exceptional circumstances within about four days.

However, in an interview with regional newspaper Karjalainen (external link in Finnish), Vehviläinen said she does not believe that the proposal can be passed into law by Monday 8 March, as per the government’s schedule.

The passing of the proposal requires input from the Constitutional Law Committee, which is due to hear from experts on the matter on Wednesday, as well as a report from the Commerce Committee, which is expected to be completed no earlier than Thursday.

Lintilä: Compensation model being prepared

The government's measures aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus received widespread support within Parliament, including from opposition parties. However, the issue of how entrepreneurs and business owners will be adequately compensated for the loss of income was also raised.

Minister of Economic Affairs Mika Lintilä (Cen) told Parliament that a compensation model is currently being prepared and the budget of 50 million euros previously mentioned in the government's proposal is no longer been adequate.

Instead, Lintilä said that "reasonable compensation" will be provided to the industry, but he was not willing to provide an exact figure at this stage.

Minister of Employment Tuula Haatainen (SDP) also rejected a suggestion that businesses in the industry could be permitted to fast-track temporary employee redundancies, as happened last year when the first wave of the pandemic hit Finland.

At that time, trade unions agreed on a joint proposal with employer organisations that allowed firms to accelerate the furloughing process, thereby enabling workers to immediately claim income-linked benefits from their unemployment fund.

However, Haatinen said that this was agreed on an exceptional basis as the restrictions applied more broadly to society, but now the restrictions only apply to one industry and its losses will be compensated by state support.

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