Helsinki (09.12.2022 - Heikki Jokinen) Collective bargaining has come to a halt or been blocked almost everywhere. The reason for this is the ironclad mutual coordination now in place by private sector employers.
Paradoxically, employers have for a very long time been speaking out in favour of a decentralised collective bargaining system. Every branch should negotiate on the basis of the realities of that very branch, they say.
It is now clear that the employers are taking a very determined stance, probably more so than ever before, on collective bargaining, everywhere. As there has been, so far, no deal in the export industries, such as the metal or chemical industry, the leadership of the employers' associations seem to be unwilling to accept any deals at all.
Another paradox is, that one year ago many collective agreements were written in an innovative way: the agreement being valid for two years, only pay rise will be negotiated after one year.
The parties agreed, then, that this would make the next round of collective bargaining, with respect to the second part of the pay rise, smoother. But now, the employers are attempting to scupper serious negotiations, in the main, and scrap the idea of two year deals - which were seen as a positive step last year. In many branches, every part of the collective agreement is now open again.
This rock solid coordination even affects relatively minor collective agreements in branches that have no connection whatsoever with the metal or chemical industry.
For instance, the Finnish Union of Journalists was forced to terminate the existing collective agreement concerning film and TV production staff with the employers association Palta.
Palta was not prepared to seriously discuss the pay rise, due to the employers' general policy and strict order to keep a low ceiling for pay rises.
Another example is the collective agreement covering ski resorts, negotiated by Service Union United PAM. Negotiations were broken off, as the employer's offer in regard to a pay rise followed their coordinated, very low level provision. So far, there have been some limited strikes at six ski resorts just before the high season.
Employers' coordinated ceiling for the pay rise is extremely low, especially in an era of galloping inflation. According to information from various sources, the employers have a coordinated ceiling of around two per cent by way of a pay rise for the year 2023. The unions are requesting at least a 4 - 5 per cent pay rise.
In November, the Finnish Commerce Federation refused point-blank to negotiate with the Service Union United PAM for the commercial sector collective agreement. Now, the two-year agreement will come to an end one year earlier instead, at the end of January 2023.
PAM President Annika Rönni-Sällinen said that she is disappointed with the employers’ decision.
"Until now, we at PAM have taken it for granted that the agreement is respected and that we can trust the Finnish Commerce Federation’s word. Now the situation has changed. The Finnish Commerce Federation has taken a unilateral decision that shows arrogance towards the negotiations and thus towards the employees in the sector", she says and calls the employers' decision irresponsible.
It is not clear what the employers expect to gain by this new strategy. Their actions go against their spoken aims: more decision power for each branch and longer collective agreements to guarantee industrial peace. Now, they are tossing both these goals in the dustbin.