Helsinki (20.08.2001 - Juhani Artto) Finland’s labour market organisations reached a historic agreement* in April on the rules that foreign businesses and employees must observe when operating and working in Finland.
The seven organisations state their position in the following terms: "Employees originating in the [European Union] applicant countries are also subject to Finnish legislation, and the minimum conditions for their employment are to be determined on the basis of Finnish labour legislation and collective agreements. The Partners stress that these regulations must be observed in all workplaces and in all employment contracts, regardless of the form in which the work is performed. Thus, the enlargement of the European Union and the increasingly free movement of labour must not lead to the importing of cheap labour from other countries into the Finnish labour market."
This was not the first time that the labour market partners have been able to formulate a common statement on international issues of fundamental importance to the functioning of the labour market. When Finland negotiated in the 1990s on conditions for entering the European Union and subsequently joining the EMU area, the labour market partners also found a common understanding on the burning issues of the day.
For the trade union movement this has been a fruitful way to magnify its impact on the Finnish government's position in these complex negotiations.
The Finnish trade unions and employer organisations are currently concerned in particular about the kind of regulations to which Estonian businesses and employees will be subject when they enter Finnish business and working life. If they are not required to comply with the same minimum standards as Finnish enterprises, then competitive conditions would be seriously affected.
"It is obvious that the dumping of working conditions with a view to realising rapid profits constitutes an acute and significant risk", comments the Finnish labour legislation expert Jari Hellsten in the trade union magazine PAM 8-2001. Hellsten hopes that enterprises will understand these risks. However, the Federation of Finnish Enterprises, representing small and medium-sized businesses, is not among the signatories to the common statement.
An associated concern is the context in which the European Union Directives on public procurement that are presently under consideration by committees of the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers will be viewed.
The goal of these Directives is to open up the service market to cross-border competition in cases where services are commissioned by a local or national public authority.
"It is important to wage and salary earners that the Directives allow the commissioning authority to include conditions in the procurement contract requiring compliance with generally binding collective agreements" comments Jorma Skippari, leader of the joint Brussels office of the Finnish trade union confederations.
In the same article in PAM 8-2001 Kalervo Haverinen, the social relations secretary at Service Unions United – PAM, calls for more rights for the trade unions and public authorities to exercise control over working conditions. He feels that the simplest approach would be to make the commissioning authority responsible for these conditions. The employers oppose such a model.
The movement of services mainly concerns the hotel, catering, cleaning and real estate administration sectors. Demographic trends also indicate that Finland will also need foreign labour in the caring professions, particularly for the elderly.
*The text of the agreement is available in English on the Baltic Sea Trade Union Network web site (http://www.bastun.nu/).