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Union accuses state conciliator of bias in labour negotiations

A union head says state conciliator Minna Helle oversaw labour agreement negotiations at the same time she was seeking a job with a party to the talks.

Matti Harjuniemi ja Minna Helle.
Matti Harjuniemi and Minna Helle Image: Jukka Nissinen / Rakennusliitto, Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

The Finnish Construction Trade Union has criticised departing state conciliator Minna Helle for biased mediation work during labour agreement negotiations in the industry. According to the union's chair Matti Harjuniemi, Helle mediated the dispute over work terms and conditions between construction sector employees and employers at the same time that she was arranging to start work for one of the parties to the talks.

Helle recently announced that she would leave her state position to become labour market director for the employer federation known as Technology Industries of Finland. She will start in her new position on June 1.

The union chair says that Helle's connection to her future employer was apparent in the industry's stalled labour talks this spring. He says that he and Kimmo Palonen had an appointment with the state conciliator on April 6, when the three representatives of the employers groups that sat across the table announced that they were "bound to a common policy".

"Minna Helle said that RT (The Confederation of Finnish Construction Industries) was committed, 'and did not have permission to act in any other manner'. I wrote her exact words down. So much for negotiating. Since that meeting, the parties to the dispute met two more times in April at the Bulevardi location, and the message was the same, in practice," Harjuniemi said on Sunday.

Union sees ethical dilemma

Harjuniemi says that Helle met with Jorma Turunen, the departing CEO of her future employer Technology Industries of Finland, several times since the start of 2018 about the new labour market director position.

"Jorma Turunen and Minna Helle don't see any kind of ethical dilemma. [...] We have to put an end to this," he wrote.

The charges the construction workers' union has levied against Helle are serious, because state conciliators are required to work without bias, for instance, in their efforts to reach settlements in labour disputes.

Helle responded to the accusation in a tweet on Sunday, saying she acted neutrally during the talks, as she had always done in her mediator role. She promised to explain the details better in her A-studio talk show appearance on Monday.

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