European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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Strikes in Finland: background summary

There is a general right to strike in Finland, with an interdiction when a collective agreement is in place and the strike is about some dispositions of the collective agreement. Political strikes and sympathy strikes are relatively frequent. A National Conciliator assists the negotiating partners in the conciliation of labour disputes.

  • The employer and employee parties bound by a collective agreement may not, during its validity, take industrial action that is directed against the collective agreement as a whole or any of its provisions.
  • The social partners have the duty to supervise the preservation of industrial peace. A single employer and/or an employer and employee association may be ordered to pay a compensatory fine for breaking the industrial peace.
  • Once the collective agreement has expired, i.e. during a period with no valid agreement, the employees´ party may put pressure on the employer through strikes or other measures of industrial action. The employer, on the other hand, may use a lockout.
  • Political strikes and sympathy strikes are permitted, which has a strong impact on strikes in the country, as strikes take place only when there is no collective agreement, or in order to support other sectors, or for political reason.
  • Finland has a system of compulsory conciliation, with the National Conciliator and the Conciliators who assist the negotiating partners in the conciliation of labour disputes if a collective agreement cannot be reached without outside help. But the settlement of labour disputes is not compulsory. The parties to a dispute do not have to accept the Conciliator’s proposal.
  • The central labour market organisations can also be assisted by the National Conciliator when drawing up comprehensive incomes policy agreements. The arbitration system is based on the Act on Mediation in Labour Disputes.
  • The appropriate Conciliator and the other party must be informed of the beginning or extension of a work stoppage due to a labour dispute no later than two weeks before the beginning or extension. This obligation only applies to interest disputes, as legal conflicts must always be settled by the Labour Court, general courts or arbitrators.
  • According to statistics, when compared internationally, there were more labour disputes in Finland during the 20th century than in many other industrial countries. The number of working days lost per employee because of strikes was, on average, clearly lower in Western Europe and North America than in Finland. During the 20th century the inclination in Finland to strike was nearly as high as in the Mediterranean countries — except for the 1990s, when there were only few/fewer strikes in Finland. During 2000-2005 Finland lost the third highest number of working days, after Spain and Italy, relative to the number of employees of all EU countries.
  • The most important strike in Finland for the last 20 years took place in September 2015, with the first general strike since 1986. It was targeting the measures announced by the government to coerce the trade unions into accepting a reduction in the power of social partners through negotiation, unilateral measures to diminish salaries and holidays, and cuts in subsidies to families, students and retirees. It was successful, with a very large participation, the country practically paralyzed, and the government changing its stance.
  • The paper industry, which is an important sector for Finland, has seen a number of strikes in the last 20 years, due in particular to the fact that it is shrinking in Finland. The last strikes took place in 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2011, with important economic losses for the sector.
  • The aviation sector had a number of strikes in the last years. In 2010, a strike launched by the Finnish Cabin Crew Union cost Finnair at least €17 million. It began on 30 November 2010 and concerned plans to cut rest time between long haul services from 36 hours to 24 hours. It was solved by the National Conciliator Esa Lonka: there were sympathy strikes by other airport workers supporting Finnair cabin crews. In 2013, a strike of flight attendants and cabin crews was avoided with a last minute deal.
  • A strike in December 2015 at Finland's state-owned mail company Posti Group, where unions were protesting the company's plan to make collective agreements more flexible and to hire more non-union temporary agency workers, was extended to other employers by the post and logistics union PAU. The Finnish aviation union began a sympathy strike affecting mail-processing at airports and the transport workers' union AKT stopped processing inbound or outbound freight shipped by DHL at six Finnish ports
  • A one-day strike of train conductors worried for employment and the future of the railway services took place at the end of March 2016.
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