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Schools to close, rail network to shut down in austerity protest

Finnish teachers are set to join the biggest labour movement demonstration in decades on Friday, shutting down schools and daycare centres across the country as they protest in Helsinki against government austerity measures. The country’s rail network will also stop for the demonstration, along with dozens of other industries.

Olli Luukkainen
OAJ chair Olli Luukkainen Image: Juho Liukkonen / Yle

Schools across the country will be closed on Friday as teachers demonstrate in protest of planned government cuts. The country’s rail network will also shut down, after the Locomotive Drivers Union’s board voted on Sunday to join a broad-based walkout against government austerity and pay cuts.

Finland’s labour movement has been up in arms about plans to cut Sunday bonuses, overtime pay, sick pay, public sector workers’ holidays and to move two bank holidays to the weekend. Now the train drivers’ union has announced plans to join a protest planned for next Friday, shutting down rail transport for the day so members can attend the Helsinki demonstration.

Meanwhile teachers in schools and daycare centres will also head to Helsinki for the protest, after the teachers’ union the OAJ announced it would join in. In practice this will mean that many of the country's educational establishments will be shut down for the day. Matriculation exams, however, will continue as normal, despite the disruption.

Luukkainen expects all of Finland's teachers with permanent posts to take part in the demonstration, even though the law forbids them from participating in political labour strikes. He says OAJ union is prepared to pay the fines participation might incur.

"The plan is to get the whole OAJ membership on board," union chair Olli Luukkainen said.

More information tomorrow

The demonstration in Helsinki is only expected to take two hours and will begin at 11 am. Due to travel distances however, many teachers may be away from the classroom for the entire day. The union says it aims to provide further information for parents as soon as possible.

Luukkainen says teachers in Finland last participated in a large-scale demonstration like this in 1984.

"A great deal of time has passed, which also indicates how seriously the teachers are taking this matter to heart," he said.

Representatives of Talentia, a social service employee union, say the day care workers in their organisation will likely participate in the demonstration, but will confirm the scale of their participation on Monday.

More details on the rail shutdown will also be available on Monday, according to the transport union AKT.

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