Helsinki (13.02.1998 - Juhani Artto) It took a week for the Greater Helsinki area bus, tram and underground drivers to prevail in their strike about their rights on privatised transport routes.

According to the new agreement, a company which is successful in bidding for routes will be obliged to hire workers sacked by the company which lost the route if the successful company needs more drivers.

In such cases the driver will hired as an established employee retaining almost all accumulated social benefits. This rule will apply to the pay scale, the length of annual leave, the level of compensation for sick leave and the terms of dismissal.

The unions and two private bus operators made a separate agreement on pension rights. According to this agreement, any drivers whose pension benefits would be reduced or pension age raised in the event of transfer to a successful bidder would be among the last to be dismissed from the unsuccessful company.

Opinion polls showed that an exceptionally high proportion of Greater Helsinki area residents, 80 per cent, supported the drivers cause in the dispute, even though the strike badly affected those without private cars.

Another factor that inclined the employers towards reaching a quick resolution of the dispute was the imminent threat of sympathy strikes in the railway and air transport sectors.

The Labour Court ordered the unions to pay 360,000 Finnish marks (1 FIM = 0,19 USD) in fines for illegal strikes.

Union representatives emphasised that the agreement reached would be the starting point for corresponding negotiations in other sectors. The employers negotiators stressed the opposite by saying that the solution is specially tailored only for the Greater Helsinki area.

Two Swedish companies, Linjebuss and Swebus, have been so successful in bidding that they now control 73 per cent of privatised routes. Linjebuss is owned by the major French conglomerate Compagnie Général des Eaux (CGE), a company which, according to the Finnish net magazine Duuni, is seeking by its aggressive marketing strategy to become the global number one bus operator.

Swebus is owned by the Scottish company Stagecoach Holdings (SCH).

Markku Haavisto, CEO of Linjebuss Finland, says that his company plans to capture a significant market share primarily of local routes in the largest urban centres. In Europe, CGE already operates more than 10,000 buses.