Helsinki (01.05.1999 - Juhani Artto) One of the central elements in Finnish political organisation is tripartite co-operation between by the goverment, employer organisations and trade unions.

Like its predecessor, Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen's new coalition government has adopted tripartite co-operation as one of its principles. This was clearly reflected in the programme negotiations which took place before forming the government. Proposals made by the trade unions were taken seriously and several were included in the programme.

"Nowadays, the government programme has real significance. It lists the tasks to which the coalition is committed", says Kirsti Palanko-Laaka, a Department Head at SAK. As Finland's largest central trade union organisation, SAK listed its own goals for the government programme to be negotiated after the March 1999 parliamentary elections as long as one year in advance. Early this year SAK specified its objectives and compiled a document using the language of the future government's programme.

"In negotiations for the government programme, the goals for working life of the Finnish Social Democratic Party and the Leftist Alliance were similar to our own. Consequently, the new goverment programme emphasises quality of working life more strongly than any government in Finnish history", Palanko-Laaka notes.

This means undertaking a wide range of research initiatives and pursuing projects to tackle unemployment, productivity, occupational health and safety, burn-out and marginalisation. Temporary employment and outsourcing have rapidly increased, providing an incentive for changes in legislation and practices.

Despite her positive comments on the government programme, Palanko-Laaka stresses that the document does not guarantee a good outcome. "However, it is important that the climate for tripartite co-operation is now good. This smooths the path for concrete progress in qualitative aspects of working life."

The parties agree on need to extend the period during which people belong to the work force. The common aim is to increase the employment rate to 70 per cent. Currently 64 per cent of 15-64 year-old Finns are in work.

The unemployment rate has fallen slowly, in spite of relatively rapid economic growth. In March the unemployment rate registered by the Ministry of Labour was 10.9 per cent. During the worst stages of the early 1990s recession in the Finnish economy, the rate was close to 20 per cent.