Petteri Orpo’s Government Programme – the Emperor’s new clothes?

Tehy is organising a demonstration titled ‘The Government is taking our money and our rights!’ on 20 September at 16.00 at Rautatientori, Helsinki. We have many reasons to protest. One of them is the plan to drastically restrict employee rights. Else-Mai Kirvesniemi, Executive Director of Tehy, describes how these restrictions would affect the working conditions and salary trajectory of social services and healthcare professionals.

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo’s Government Programme declares noble goals. The Government aims to e.g.: strengthen democracy, participation and trust in society, promote the principle of equal pay and equality in working life and target more effective measures at preventing discrimination based on pregnancy leave and family leave, in particular. The Government wants to solve the shortage of healthcare and social welfare personnel threatening the availability of services of the welfare society.

However, the provisions presented in the Government Programme are in glaring conflict with the stated goals.

The Government plans to lay down provisions so that the general level of pay adjustments cannot be exceeded by a proposal by the National Conciliator’s Office or a conciliation board. As such, nurses would not be able to truly negotiate on their own salaries. Instead, the male-dominated export industry would be doing the negotiating for us.

Pay programmes and the promotion of pay equality would be history. Low-income female-dominated fields would be tied to a neverending salary lag.

At the same time, the National Conciliator would lose their most important means of resolving labour disputes. How will the National Conciliator even spend their time in the future if the actual conciliation work is made impossible? Perhaps they will be sitting in a conference room drinking the complimentary water, since the law will still require participation in the conciliation process. 

In accordance with the Nordic practice, the Government will limit the exercise of the right to political industrial action to protests lasting no longer than one day. This provision would give the Government free rein to restrict the statutory rights of employees, without fear of effective protesting that the Government apparently finds unpleasant.

It is interesting to note that no Nordic countries have such laws that the planned “Nordic practice” refers to. The Government is planning to follow through with this proposal first so that they can then implement the other restrictions to employee rights in peace (without unpleasant protests). Such restrictions include: 

  • Preparing a forced labour act for the care sector to ensure that essential work can be organised during disputes, in case we still go on strike for better pay.
  • Allowing employers to conclude employment contracts for a fixed term of one year without a special reason, which will inevitably increase pregnancy discrimination.
  • Lowering the threshold for terminating an individual’s employment contract, even though this already is at an average European level and terminating a contract is currently easier than in Sweden.
  • Making the first day of sickness absence to be the employee’s own liability, which may even endanger the lives of patients in the healthcare sector. I would like to remind ‘workman’ Putkonen of the Finns Party that, contrary to his beliefs, nurses are already preparing for these weakened terms to show up in the proposals for collective agreements. We were not born yesterday. The need for an amendment is puzzling, since, according to Putkonen, it would only affect about 10% of all employees in Finland and those who already are in the weakest position, not covered by collective agreements. Tehy demands that the necessity and consequences of amending the law be evaluated very carefully.
  • Shortening the notice period for lay-offs and the pay obligation to seven days, regardless of the provisions of the collective agreement.
  • Weakening many other terms of employment, such as allowing for local bargaining without a union representative, changing the scope of the Act on Co-operation within Undertakings, and removing the obligation to re-employ an employee in companies that employ fewer than 50 persons.

The Government also wishes to restrict the rights to industrial action, for example by making the conditions for solidarity action stricter, increasing the maximum fines for illegal industrial action to be five times higher, and making employees personally liable for participating in illegal industrial action. 

Will the Government verify the legality of its actions?

The Government’s decisions have far-reaching consequences. Society – residents of Finland – should prepare for the care sector not becoming any more attractive or able to retain employees. Weakening working conditions and reducing the rights to negotiation and industrial action will undoubtedly make the shortage of nurses worse and deepen the crisis of the social services, healthcare and early childhood education sectors, which will have a real effect on residents’ services. 

The Government should verify the legality of the planned provisions. Many of the provisions concerning the rights to negotiation and industrial action seem to go against the international agreements to which Finland is bound. 

Without a doubt, Tehy and all labour unions will do their utmost to prevent the provisions of the Government Programme, which will worsen employees’ position at an unprecedented level, from seeing the light of day.

Like in the fairytale about the Emperor’s new clothes, this story requires someone to speak the truth out loud. That’s where the unions come in.     

The provisions presented in the Government Programme reveal the naked truth. They will not strengthen democracy or promote equal pay and general equality, and definitely not improve the attraction of the social services, healthcare and early childhood education sector. On the contrary.

Join us and express your opinion to the Finnish Government on 20 September 2023 at 16.00, at Rautatientori, Helsinki! The Government is even trying to restrict your right to protest!