Helsinki (02.03.2017 - Heikki Jokinen) The Confederation of Finnish Industries EK is terminating all 22 confederation level national agreements it still has with the trade union confederations.

EK announced unilaterally that it will not conduct any further national level labour market agreements. All future agreements will we be made at union or company level, EK has decided.

EK had earlier pulled out of confederation level national tripartite labour market pacts.

The 22 agreements to be jettisoned cover several practical issues like collecting trade union fees, provisions on employee training and the rights of shop stewards.

Many unions have included similar stipulations in their collective agreements, but not all. The smaller unions, in particular, have been relying on confederation level agreements.

The roots of these agreements go back to the year 1940 when the employers federation agreed to accept the  trade union confederation SAK as a negotiation partner.

The unilateral announcement of EK caused an immediate reaction from the unions. Ann Selin, the chairperson of Service Union United PAM said that EK's move is "an irresponsible attempt to erode the decision-making culture of Finland".

Confederation agreements are a central part of the labour market system, she stressed. "Does EK really want to declare a war in a situation, where there is finally some light visible for the Finnish economy?"

The Metal Worker's Union strongly condemned EK’s decision to terminate the agreements. The decision will have an extremely negative impact on the labour market climate, the Union said.

Difficult autumn ahead

The unions immediately began to examine how their existing collective agreements cover terminating national agreements.

Jorma Malinen, President of Trade Union Pro said that the provisions for terminating agreements must be included in all Pros collective agreements before bargaining on any other issues.

Pro must now negotiate on provisions concerning, for example, training in their 60 collective agreements. At the moment this is clear from one confederation level agreement.

The Union of Professional Engineers in Finland has stated that EK's decision will have no immediate effect. The agreements are valid as long as the existing collective agreements. The Union will also do its best to minimize the damage.

Negotiations on the next round of collective agreements this autumn may now prove to be difficult.

To make it easier, all three labour confederations Akava, SAK and STTK propose to transfer the 22 agreements to union level collective agreements during the spring.

This would help to avoid extra problems in the autumn, the confederations say.

EK claimed that terminating the agreements is due to the change in their statutes. These now forbid confederation level agreements.

If this really is the case, labour confederations believe that the EK member associations do not have any wish to discard or even water down the federal agreements stipulations in union level negotiations.