Helsinki (07.05.1998 - Juhani Artto) Finnish people are favourably disposed towards the trade union movement. Of the three central trade union confederations, the largest - SAK - is held in highest esteem with almost two-thirds of the population (64 per cent) saying that they appreciate this organisation "rather a lot" or better.

The two other central trade union confederations, STTK and Akava, also earn a high score with positive responses of 58 and 54 per cent respectively.

These results are from a recent opinion poll conducted for SAK by Gallup Finland. 1008 Finnish people over 15 years of age and living in various parts of the country were interviewed.

Contrary to the commonly held view, those under 35 years of age had the strongest faith in trade unions when asked which organisation or institution is the most effective force in combating unemployment. Union movement was the first choice of 53 per cent of everyone interviewed. Lower-paid salaried employees also clearly had a higher than average belief in the ability of the union movement to fight unemployment.

The efforts made by the government of social democratic Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen to cut unemployment were appreciated by 41 per cent of those interviewed. This figure was slightly higher than the support given to President Martti Ahtisaari on the same issue. The employers scored 34 per cent and the political opposition led by the Center Party 33 per cent.

Three out of four Finns (76 %) think that contracting out of public services has gone too far if it results in lower pay or weakened job security. More than half of those interviewed (54 per cent) are unable to see sufficiently compelling economic justifications for contracting out public services.

A majority in all social strata are opposed to competition at the expense of wage levels and job security. This is even the view of most organised small and medium-scale entrepreneurs.

The study confirmed that an overwhelming majority of the Finns (81 per cent) support the system of collective agreements in which the parties agree on minimum conditions of service. There are significant doubts concerning local collective bargaining, with 69 per cent believing that the employees are in a disadvantaged position when there are only local negotiations and agreements.

Three out of four Finns are opposed to tax cuts where these mean cuts in social security and public services. Almost as many (73 per cent) are in favour of raising capital, property and ecological taxes in order to enable cuts in income tax.

Only a quarter of those interviewed opposed the idea of shortening working hours at the cost of reduced incomes if the aim is to combat serious unemployment.