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Wednesday's papers: Boss bonus brouhaha, school class sizes, disappearing berry pickers and Orpo's tax promise

Wednesday's newspapers continue the uproar over compensation packages for senior executives at state-owned firms, take a look at class sizes in Tampere, report on a strange case of disappearing berry pickers and analyse what might be in store in next year's state budget.

Oppilaita Mikkolan koululla Vantaalla.
It's back to school for Finnish children this week. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

There has been much indignation recently over the news that Finnair's CEO Pekka Vauramo received 130,000 euros in additional pension payments in 2016. The majority state-owned firm had decided in 2013 that it would not make these payments to executives, and principles laid down by the government department responsible for managing stakes in private firms re-affirmed that line in 2015.

Even so, Finnair's board paid Vauramo's pension contributions and in justification cited comparisons with other listed firms. Ilta-Sanomat on Wednesday looks at other firms in which the state has a stake, and finds that extra pension payments are very common indeed--and that Finnair's are at the lower end of the scale.

Oil firm Neste, in which the state holds a 50.1 percent stake, tops the list. It paid a pension supplement of 957,000 euros to CEO Matti Lievonen in 2016, prompting the IS journalist to ask why exactly so much fuss was made over Vauramo.

He comes to the conclusion that there's nothing particularly suspicious or immoral about this form of payment, but when pay moderation and austerity are the dominant watchwords in public debate, high pay for senior managers is not going to get much support.

Budget tax changes

Speaking of pay moderation and austerity, Helsingin Sanomat takes a look at the Finance Ministry's budget proposal. Ahead of this week's talks Finance Minister Petteri Orpo has stated that there is no room for manoeuvre, despite recently improved economic news. That declaration uses the Finnish term 'jakovara', to mean 'spoils to share out': the message is we're not out of the woods yet, so don't expect over-generous spending decisions.

The ministry's budget proposal itself is currently being thrashed out behind closed doors, but some information has leaked out to HS. One key issue is an uplift of the threshold for paying Finland's 'solidarity tax' from 72,000 euros to 90,000 euros. That had been agreed in 2015.

HS reports that low and middle income earners, meanwhile, will see their purchasing power diminish thanks to the impact of the competitiveness pact. Ensuring they don't lose any purchasing power would cost around 400 million euros, according to the Taxpayers' Association CEO Teemu Lehtinen.

Class sizes vary widely in Tampere

Aamulehti has a survey of class sizes as children head back to school this week. The paper called headteachers at all the city's primary schools, finding wide variance in the size of classes for first graders.

The smallest groups had just 15 pupils, while the biggest contained as many as 27. The paper reports that that's not really the best way to look at resources, as schools often have more staff on hand in the bigger classes.

In addition, some pupils require special support and they need a smaller class to get the best out of their teachers, which can mean big differences in class sizes within the same school.

Some 2,000 kids start school in the first grade this year in Tampere.

Berry picker mystery

Ilta-Sanomat carries a story originally reported by Karjalainen about a group of 40 foreign berry-pickers that has apparently disappeared from a hunting lodge in Tuupovaara in Joensuu, Eastern Finland.

Tuupovaara hunting club secretary Sulo Suhonen says he received a phone call from someone (who he won't identify) who told him that a group of berry-pickers from Ukraine and Estonia was in need of emergency shelter in the area. Suhonen told Ilta-Sanomat that he suspects the poor lingonberry harvest lay behind the pickers' plight.

The group of workers, 37 from Ukraine and three from Estonia, allegedly told Suhonen that they had plans to travel to Juuka, in North Karelia, but their housing plans fell through.

The pickers were apparently brought to the hunting club's lodge a few hours after the mystery phone call. There they were fed and watered by locals and church groups for about week, before abruptly disappearing on Tuesday.

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