Helsinki (06.03.2018 - Heikki Jokinen) Most unemployment funds have traditionally been an integral part of trade unions in Finland. The first union to start an unemployment fund was the Book Printers' Union in 1895. Since the decree of 1917 the Union unemployment funds have been receiving financial support from the state.

Those who are members of the unemployment funds are paying a moderate annual fee to their fund. In turn they get a higher earnings-related benefit than those who are not members of the unemployment funds.

Now Pirkko Mattila, Minister of Social Affairs and Health says it is not right that only those who are members of unemployment funds should be entitled to earnings-related benefit. Those who do not belong to the unemployment funds only receive the lower basic unemployment allowance.

Minister Mattila has now appointed a rapporteur to draft a report on how to create a system of general unemployment security with earnings-related benefits for everyone.

Some 85 per cent of wage and salary earners are members of unemployment funds. Not all of them are members of trade unions, but the trade union density in Finland is still amongst the highest in the world.

The unions are offering a broad package of services for their members and unemployment security is one part of this.

Why to focus on a detail?

Judging from comments that have appeared in the Finnish media the reaction to such moves has been clear enough: Minister Mattila and her party, the nationalist-conservative Blue Reform are keen to find ways to make the trade unions seem less attractive and thus suffer a loss in membership.

Antti Palola, President of the Finnish Confederation of Professionals STTK says that it is important to update information on Finnish social security and initiate reforms, if needed.

However, Palola is astonished as to why one element of the whole issue of earnings-related social security is right now coming under the spotlight. The Government has already a comprehensive project to study reforms needed in basic social security.

He recommends that when reforming social security it should be seen as a whole, and not just focus on single elements.

Jarkko Eloranta, President of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions SAK told the newspaper Demokraatti that the Minister's proposal is nothing new. Invariably, the idea behind this has been to seek ways to cut unemployment security.

The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra report made a similar proposition in 2015. According to the report the new system would be financed by dramatically cutting the length of time that unemployment benefits could be claimed.

Drafting the new report is just a ploy for the next elections, Eloranta says. In the latest Yle poll in February Blue Reform had a mere 1.6 percent support among voters.