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Strikes Stopping Finland’s Cargo Port Operations Extended for Fourth Week

Helsinki port
The strike will be extended for a fourth week stopping most cargo operations in Finland (file photo)

Published Mar 28, 2024 7:26 PM by The Maritime Executive

 

Finland’s trade unions announced they are extending their strike into a fourth week after they contend the government is not showing any willingness to compromise on cuts to social welfare while imposing changes to collective bargaining and the right to strike. Cargo operations at the country’s ports as well as the railroads continued to be mostly stopped with the unions saying there are willing to suspend the strike when the government “shows understanding for the workers’ concerns.”

The trade union federation is conducting the strike which began on March 11 and was initially scheduled to run for two weeks. They report that around 7,000 members of the Finnish Confederation of Trade Unions are on strike. Taking part in the action are the Automotive and Transport Workers’ Union (AKT), the Service Trade Union (PAM), the Construction Union, the Public and Welfare Union (JHL), and the Electricity Union.

The strike is targeting the cargo operations of ferry operator Viking Line as well as the stevedores that handle import and export cargoes. They are also targeting fuel supplier Neste stopping some fuel distribution operations. Passenger ferry operations are not part of the strike but they are also targeting freight railway operations.

The strike had been scheduled to end on Monday, April 1, but the unions announced they are now extending it till 0600 on April 8. They said the union council would meet again after the Easter Holiday to discuss its actions.

“The strike will continue because the government’s line is historically harmful to current and future employees,” said AKT in its statement. While saying they regretted the inconvenience caused by the strikes they said they had to act to “defend the position of the workers.”

At issue are changes to the country’s social security program due to go into effect on April 1 which the union argues will increase poverty and give Finland the lowest level of social welfare in the Nordic countries. Scandinavia historically has some of the most inclusive and generous welfare programs supported by high tax rates. The union alleges the planned cuts would only benefit employers and entrepreneurs. 

The other key issues include changes that the government argues would give more local control to employees by permitting them to negotiate individual contracts. The unions see this as a threat to the broader agreements which are nearly universal in Scandinavia. Also, the changes would reduce the ability of unions to stage sympathy strikes to support their fellow organizations.

“We have asked Prime Minister Petteri Orpo's government for fairness and moderation,” says Jarkko Eloranta, Chairman of SAK, the Central Confederation of Finnish Trade Unions which represents 18 trade unions and more than 800,000 members. “However, the government does not listen to the organizations representing the employees. Furthermore, it intends to implement numerous goals of business life that are negative for employees. Several of them do not affect employment or the balance of the public finances.”

Despite the strike dragging on, SAK reports 51 percent of Finns approve of its strike while only 42 percent do not agree with the strike. They report that support is strongest among young people, women, and workers.