JHL (19.07.2016 - Heikki Jokinen) All public social welfare and health care services in Finland will be transferred from municipalities to the 18 soon to be established autonomous regions in line with the new draft legislation. More than 200,000 people will have a new employer by the beginning of 2019.

Reform of social welfare and health care services has been a long-debated issue in Finnish politics. At the end of June the centre-right Government presented their main policy objectives in a 600 page legislation package. But this is not all: more draft bills are to follow.

Drafting the legislation was a controversal issue for the Government. Prime Minister Sipilä’s Centre Party, which is strong outside the major cities, wish to establish a large number of regions with broad autonomy.

Another Government party, the National Coalition Party, was a keen advocate of the privatisation of public services and comprehensive participation of private service providers in public healthcare.

Both got what they wanted. The number of autonomous regions will be 18 and private companies will be involved extensively in social welfare and health care services. Citizens should now in principle be able to choose whether to use public services or private ones.

How this is to be realised in practice, has been left open until the draft bill on so called freedom to choose is put before Parliament in September 2017. Four different models are now under consideration by the Government, including service vouchers and personal budgeting.

Many of the private companies in social and health services are owned by international capital funds and some are also known for their preference for tax avoidance and tax havens.
Currently, health care is the responsibility of joint municipal authorities and local authorities, numbering around 190 altogether.

As the 18 regions will also take on other areas of responsibility, public administration in Finland will now be organised on a three-tier level: central government, autonomous regions, and local government.

What will happen to the employees?

The Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors JHL is concerned about the situation of employees who work in social welfare and health care services and how this reform will affect them. Some 60,000 of JHL 225,000 members are engaged in this sector.

There are many questions that still remain open. One of the key issues is connected with the strong participation of private service providers. What will the terms of employment offered by them be?

The Government has said that all employees transferring to the new autonomous regions will be treated as old employees. This means they will keep their existing salaries and other benefits.

But what will happen in the longer run for those transferred to the private companies or companies owned by the autonomous regions? Will their salaries and benefits be scaled down in the future?

JHL is insisting that the terms of employment for all personnel transferred to new employers should remain as they are now. There is, however, a danger that the private companies might choose some other collective agreement than the one negotiated by JHL and which prevails just now. This might lead to wide variations and a worsening of the terms of employment in the sector.

Broken service chains?

Another major issue for JHL is the fate of the supporting services, like food service and cleaning. One part of these will be transferred to the companies owned by the regions. It has not yet been decided what the terms of employment will be for those transferred to these new supporting service companies.

As supporting services are usually regularly open for public procurement there is a danger that tenders which are likely to win will result in salary and benefit cuts. Redundancies are also likely in this chain of events.

JHL does not accept that the personnel should have to shoulder the cost of the savings which will clearly be offered by private companies. This will not make services to citizens better either, quite the contrary.

JHL President Päivi Niemi-Laine says that the region hardly has a right to endorse the employer policy of a single private service provider. This might lead to wild fluctuations in terms of employment, collective agreements and guidelines in the social welfare and health care services.

Niemi-Laine also points out that it would be impossible to create joint patterns of action and a flexible division of labour if every part of the service chain were to work for separate companies.

Gender equality in danger?

The third key issue for JHL is the harmonisation of salaries. To harmonise the salaries of 200,000 people transferred from one employer to another is a big and demanding task.

”Those working for the same employer doing the same work must get the same salary. The terms of employment cannot be different for a long time. We expect harmonisation of salaries to be conducted swiftly when the new social welfare and health care services structure begins to work”, JHL President Päivi Niemi-Laine says.

Employees in the social welfare and health care services are mainly female. Any major reform of these services provides an opportunity to work for equal pay. If the reform, however, leads to a general worsening of terms of employment in the branch, it will also be a serious blow to gender equality.