Helsinki (17.03.2016 - Heikki Jokinen) Employers cannot stop potential strikes by demanding that district courts impose conditional fines on unions when the collective agreement is valid. The Supreme Court made this decision in the case of a planned strike at the national flag carrier Finnair.

In June 2012 Finnair salaried employees belonging to the Trade Union Pro and some other unions announced they were taking strike action due to planned personnel cuts and outsourcing. The company asked the Helsinki district court to ban the strike and impose a conditional fine of almost three million euro on the unions.

The district court accepted the application on the very same day without hearing the defendants.

In the event, the strike was called off but the case led to a juridical process lasting almost four years and went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Trade Union Pro viewed the district court decision on such protective measures as being contrary to the law. A strike cannot be prohibited by the decision of a court, Pro argued.

Now the Supreme Court has set an important precedent by ruling that the only court that has the competence to handle issues of possible breaches of collective agreements is the Labour Court.

It also said that according to the Collective Agreements Act a court cannot prohibit industrial action. It is neither possible to impose a conditional fine as a protective measure to stop a strike even when the collective agreement is valid.

The Labour Court can only decide, after the merits of each side has been heard, on how much in compensatory damages is to be paid out following unlawful industrial action, the Supreme Court stressed.

Trade unions welcome the decision and view it as a significant one. Employers have tried and succeeded in the past to prevent strikes with these kind of legal measures.

“The decision handed down now puts a full stop on this kind of action”, says Trade Union Pro lawyer Kari Tiainen.

He says this is a dreadful example of how unjust legal processes can be in Finland. For employers it took just one day to get a court decision for a conditional fine to stop a strike. For employees it took almost four years to get a correction to this decision.