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2 February 2018

Finland: strong protest against reform of active labour market policy

Trade unions are mobilising against a reform of the current labour market policy. With the argument that it is working towards an activation model of unemployment benefits that would make the jobless more active on the labour market, the government has drafted a policy that makes it easier for companies to hire and fire. Trade union confederation SAK has come up with a fair alternative.

The conservative government recently adopted measures intended to increase labour participation. The parliament voted on 19 December 2017 in favour of the proposals. On the one hand, employers will benefit from measures that are meant to help them recruit workers, with extended trial periods for new hires and a reduction of the length of time during which employers that have laid off workers are required to re-employ these workers. On the other hand, certain measures punish and increase control over the unemployed. A new provision in the unemployment benefits legislation reduces benefit payments by 4.65% in cases where over a three-month period unemployed persons do not work enough or participate in programmes that would help them find a job. There will be a check every 65 days of unemployment, with the risk of this penalty if a worker is not undertaking work-related training or working at least 18 hours. 

The measures have led to several protests and actions. A citizens’ initiative that collected 100,000 signatures within a few weeks called on the government to roll back the controversial new legal provision to ‘activate’ the unemployed. Trade unions and associations representing the unemployed argued that the change will force people without work into different social strata, depending on their line of work and their location. People outside of the capital city region have far fewer opportunities to find part-time or temporary work or participate in training.

The trade unions have become very active in this protest. They mobilise workers against the unfair measures with national campaigns and a national demonstration in February 2018. The industrial union has even called for a national strike. Trade union confederation SAK feels betrayed by the government and has stated that the new legislation is designed to humiliate unemployed people. The new model has nothing to do with an activating labour market policy; it is simply another cut in unemployment security, the unions stress. It also violates the trilateral national Competitiveness Pact from 2016. One union leader expressed his consternation that ‘the government managed to push through its objectives with the Competitiveness Pact. It then viewed that it no longer has to adhere to the pact but continues to require that others do’.

However, the unions have not confined themselves to protest alone. SAK has elaborated an alternative, a fair labour market policy model that was presented in January 2018. This model aims to encourage the unemployed to seek work by giving them priority access to better-resourced labour market training for poorly skilled jobseekers. It is based on support and encouragement, not penalisation. Instead of intimidating jobseekers with sanctions, the SAK approach would encourage them via personal and individual services available in all cases.

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