Helsinki (27.05.2016 - Heikki Jokinen) These are the last days for negotiations on the new collective agreements under the umbrella of the national labour market pact. The dead-line on how to add 24 more annual working hours to some 300 collective agreements is June 1.

The national labour market pact or the so called competitiveness pact was agreed upon in February by the three trade union confederations and the employers' associations.

After the dead-line the Government will see whether the reformed collective agreements go far enough in cutting companies expenses and thus negate the need for proposed heavy austerity measures.

There are two main issues at play in the negotiations: to add 24 more annual working hours into the collective agreements and the so called survival clause. According to the national pact, the clause should ”help secure the employer’s operations and jobs by adjusting terms and conditions of employment when the employer runs into financial difficulties that jeopardise jobs”.

Trade unions want to add the extra working hours in a flexible way, like adding the weekly working hours by 30 minutes or using working time banks in which extra hours could be stored and used in a way that best suits both the company and the employee.

The employers' association EK is pushing strenuously for another line to be adopted: the longer working time must be added as three new full working days. These will be taken either from annual leave or from some midweek holidays.

The paradox is, that even though employers as a rule demand more company level agreements and flexibility, they are now rejecting trade unions proposals to facilitate just these in this instance.

Most of the negotiations are still open. However, the labour market tradition is that results often only come about at the very last moment.

Unions are for flexibility

The agreements reached so far include a broad variety on how to add the 24 hours to the annual working time.

The Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors JHL has made an agreement for railway workers to accept as a general rule for the extra working hours to be added to the weekly working time.

The Woodworkers’ Union struck an agreement for forestry workers cutting their existing twelve and half extra annual holidays by three days.

The Industrial Union TEAM accepted an agreement for workers in the chemical industry. Their solution was to make the changes needed at company level. The agreement drafts a long list of ways to do this, not just one single solution.

Trade Union Pro have agreed upon the first of their more than 50 collective agreements, in which the extra working hours of the office staff in the chemical industry will be decided at company level. In case there is no company level agreement, the hours will be added on to normal daily working time.

The Union of Journalists in Finland has agreed on a new collective agreement for public broadcasting, based on a flexible way of adding working time. For the press journalists they agreed to cut one of the existing midweek holidays. The remaining 16 extra hours will be decided flexibly at company level.

The negotiations are unique in Finnish history as this is the first time unions are negotiating on cutting the benefits of employees with the added burden of extending working hours.

The unions are, however, doing this as the austerity measures the right-wing Government threaten to introduce if it is not satisfied with the results of the negotiating round, would be even worse.

All agreements reached so far are conditional. They will only be valid if the Government cancels planned austerity measures.

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