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This is how working life is changing to the detriment of the employee

Hallitusohjelman heikennykset työelämään
Written byMatti Lintulahti
PhotographerAdobe Stock
Hallitusohjelman heikennykset työelämään
When implemented, the government program will have a radical and long-lasting effect on the ground rules of working life.

We asked Seppo Koskinen, Professor of Labor Law at the University of Turku, how the government program will change working life and employee rights.

The change in the Cooperation Act weakens the conditions for local bargaining

Professor Seppo Koskinen wonders why the government wants to change the recently renewed Collective Action Act in a way that weakens the possibilities of dialogue and local agreements in smaller workplaces.

- The Cooperative Act was thought through and planned together between employees and employers a couple of years ago. Back then, not even the employers saw the need to make such significant changes to it, Koskinen reflects.

Currently, the Cooperative Act applies to companies with at least 20 employees. The government program wants the scope of the Cooperative Act to be limited to companies employing at least 50 employees.

- If you really want to develop local bargaining, why change the Act on Cooperation in a way that it weakens dialogue and local bargaining in small companies. Even in those cases, employers and employees should hear each other and talk to each other.

At the same time, the government proposes to reduce the minimum time periods for change negotiations regarding layoffs by half.

- I don't understand the legal grounds of the proposal. Even now, the negotiations have been able to be concluded earlier than the minimum time, as soon as both parties see that the matter has been dealt with, says Koskinen.

The mediation system will be crippled

In the government program, there are plans to change the collective bargaining system in such a way that, by law, the national conciliator would not be allowed to negotiate a wage settlement that exceeds wage increases in the export sectors.

- According to international agreements, the national conciliator’s proposals cannot be limited by law. It is disastrous for the entire mediation system if the conciliator is unable to mediate labor disputes, Koskinen wonders.

On the contrary, according to Koskinen the Finnish mediation system should be strengthened modeling Sweden's example. In Sweden, a lot has been invested in the mediation system and it even works pre-emptively in labor disputes, unlike in Finland.

Radical change: Mandatory legislation for the benefit of the employer

A major change-changer in working life will also be amendments to the mandatory legislation. The government program has several points that weaken the working conditions of employees, and these are made through mandatory legislation. This means that it would not be possible to agree otherwise even in collective bargaining agreements.

- In the labor legislation, the minimums that no agreement can ignore are set in the law to protect the employees’ interests. Now they would begin to adjust the legislation to protect the employers – the stronger party in the negotiations. This is a radical change in our labor legislation, Koskinen states.

These changes in the government program, which could not even be agreed otherwise in employment contracts, are:

  • Shortening the layoff notice period and the related wage payment obligation to seven days (currently 14 days).
  • The re-employment obligation under the Employment Contracts Act is removed from companies and organizations employing less than 50 people, which includes 45 percent of all employees.

- There is no justification for mandatory legislation in these matters. These are exactly the things that are suitable for agreement in collective agreements, Koskinen reflects.

A major change in the industrial peace legislation

In Koskinen's opinion, the quintuple of the compensation fine for illegal industrial action to 150,000 euros and the personal fine of 200 euros set for the employee are fundamental changes to the entire industrial peace legislation.

- Often, illegal strikes are so-called mourning strikes, where employees react to extensive layoff plans or the weakening of working conditions. According to international agreements, it is possible to impose a penalty payment on individuals for an illegal strike, but at the same time, it should be written into the law that individual employees have an obligation to maintain peace at work. If a penalty fee is determined without a industrial peace obligation, it will be a major change of principle to the industrial peace legislation and would require a tripartite legislative preparation, says Koskinen.

What happened to developing the working life together?

The tripartite – between employees, employers and the state – law-making is regulated in international agreements.

- Basically, if the government determines the end result, it does not constitute a tripartite law preparation, says Koskinen.

This is exactly what is happening now, even though Finnish working life has traditionally been developed through joint cooperation.

- Working life threatens to become a constant dispute that never ends. In a good democracy, the majority also takes the minorities into account in decision-making in working life. Otherwise, now one kind of majority decisions are made, which the next different kind of majority will change back. This surely isn’t the system we want in Finland, Koskinen concludes.

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