Finnish Unions Plans Two-Week Port Strike Protesting Government Policies

Helsinki port
Finland's union plans to stop all freight operations in a two-week political strike against planned government policy changes (Helsinki file photo)

Published Mar 8, 2024 5:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

Finland’s largest trade unions is leading a nationwide two-week strike starting on Monday with the intention of interrupting freight operations at the country’s ports stopping imports and exports in what they are calling a political strike. The union contends that it does not want to hurt workers but the government has not shown any willingness to negotiate on impending changes to social programs.

The strike is scheduled to start on Monday, March 11, and is currently set to run through March 24. Among the specific operations that are targeted are the freight operations of ferry operator Viking Line with all drivers, traffic controllers, and truck surveyors participating in the strike. They will however not be striking against passenger operations.

Other parts of the strike are targeting Neste’s oil and petroleum products at the storage facilities. The stevedores will be part of the strike which will also impact port and terminal operators. They are also targeting railroad freight operations.

According to the union at issue are a series of steps the government plans to enact that will “broadly weaken the rights of both current and all future generations” of workers. They cite policies that are designed to reform the labor market and cut social security benefits. Among the steps are limits to the right to stage sympathy strikes supporting other unions or groups, cuts to earning-related unemployment insurance, and a push by the government to promote more local bargaining. In addition to the direct cuts, the union says these moves would also weaken collective agreements.

The union reports it polled members online and received more than 7,500 responses. They said 81 percent supported organizing the strikes while only 15 percent did not agree with the strikes. More than 7,000 members are expected to participate in the two-week-long strike. Also supporting the action will be the Industrial Union which is targeting heavy industry and the Electrical Workers’ Union which is targeting Neste.

The union says it has been trying to engage with the government since November to discuss the impact of the proposed changes and is looking for the government to show willingness to soften its stance. The union said it was willing to suspend the strike if the government made those indications.

A year ago, the same union staged a strike that dragged on for two weeks closing Finland’s ports. They were striking for higher wages as part of the new collective agreement. They ultimately won a 25-month agreement with a more than six percent wage increase, but not before they brought Finnish trade to a halt.

The 2023 strike impacted Finland’s 10 major ports, including Helsinki, Hamina-Kotka, Hanko, Rauma, and Turku. With as much as 90 percent of the country’s trading moving by sea and the ports, the Finnish Port Operators Association estimated that each day of the strike would impact more than $300 million in foreign trade.

With no apparent progress in talks to head off the strike, Maersk and other shipping lines warned customers that they expected all operations would be impacted.