Helsinki (21.03.2017 - Heikki Jokinen) "From our point of view it is only provisional", this arrangement whereby unions are involved in negotiating collective agreements, says Veli-Matti Mattila, Chairperson of the Confederation of Finnish Industries EK in an interview with the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat.

In the longer run it would be for the best if all terms of work were agreed individually at company level between employer and employee, is how Mattila sums up his vision for the future.

Mattila’s statement comes fast on the heels of the employers' EK recent announcement that it will do no longer enter into agreements with the trade union confederations. It has also pulled out of the 22 existing confederation level agreements.

Just when Finnish unions are preparing for union level collective bargaining later this year, Mattila reveals his vision that the employers would like to get rid of unions altogether.

Perhaps Mattila’s trust in the benefits of completely individual agreements is motivated by his own individually negotiated income, 1.66 million euro in 2015. It is 70 times more than that of the average Finnish income earner.

And salaries down, too

To add spice to his comments Mattila also said that from the point of view of competitiveness Finnish salaries are still some 10 to 15 per cent too high in comparison with the main competitor countries.

Mattila makes this claim notwithstanding the national competitiveness pact last year that froze salaries, prolonged working hours without compensation, and cut some of the holiday bonus. Additionally, employees now also have to pay a bigger share of the social insurance contributions.

EK Chairperson Mattila is demanding many more years of zero level or negative collective agreements to cut Finnish pay to a level he deems sufficient.

The interview unleashed a torrent of reaction, rarely seen. Needless to say, the response of the trade unions and union confederations was sharp. They strenuously pointed out that Finnish wage and salary earners have already made several collective agreements which in effect cut incomes.

Researchers commented that Mattila’s call to cut pay by 10 to 15 per cent to improve competitiveness is not based on any actual facts or figures. Finland has in recent years become much more competitive vis a vis countries like Germany and Sweden, where salaries have been rising, not frozen as in Finland.

Even Petteri Orpo, the Minister of Finance and Chairperson of the conservative National Coalition Party - which is very close to the employers - wrote in his blog that " a successful Finland will not be built by cutting salaries".

Several trade unions have already announced that they will be demanding pay increases in the next collective agreement.

If employers really want to demolish the trade union movement’s right to conduct collective bargaining this sounds like a declaration of war, some trade union leaders declared. The unions are also wondering whether EK as a whole stands behind their chairperson’s goals.

The comment by Riku Aalto, Chairperson of the Metal Workers' Union describes the general atmosphere among unions. He told the newspaper Ilta-Sanomat, that if the employers really want to begin a fight, "I suppose we have to take that match then".

Read more:

Competitiveness Pact signed covering 86.5 per cent of employees

Employers confederation terminates all national level labour market agreements (02.03.2017)