St. Petersburg (18.11.2000 - Juhani Artto) The Vena Brewery is one of St. Petersburg's scarce foreign-owned production facilities. A two-thirds interest in this 450-employee enterprise is owned by the Denmark-based global concern Carlsberg, while one-third is owned by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Carlsberg recently became Vena's majority shareholder by acquiring Sinebrychoff, a company with a long history of brewing in Finland.

Since 1994 Vena has invested almost USD 100 million in increased production capacity to respond to the rapidly expanding Russian beer market. In the middle of this heavy investment programme Russia's August 1998 economic slump took this profitable enterprise into the red. Despite this setback, its Executive Director Sergei Khudoleev is cautiously optimistic of restored profitability in 2001.

St. Petersburg (18.11.2000 - Juhani Artto) In St. Petersburg and the surrounding Leningrad oblast the foreign direct investment is up. Last year's figures were much above the 1998 level and in September this year the 1999 figures were already surpassed. In nine months the 4,7 million inhabitant St. Petersburg received 700 million USD foreign investments and the 1,8 million inhabitant Leningrad oblast almost 400 million USD.

Another positive sign is the St. Petersburg balanced budget in two consecutive years and the 2001 draft showing an almost 40 million USD surplus. The incomes are estimated to rise to 1,48 billion USD.

In St. Petersburg the production and average incomes are rising.

Helsinki (10.11.2000 - Juhani Artto) Archbishop Jukka Paarma and SAK President Lauri Ihalainen have made a historic appeal to policymakers and all influential people in Finland. They are calling for Finland to increase its development co-operation expenditure to 0.7 per cent of GNP, in line with UN recommendations.

Archbishop Paarma is the leader of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland. Some 85 per cent of Finland's population belong to this denomination. With member organisations representing 1.1 million workers SAK, led by Mr. Ihalainen, is the largest trade union confederation in Finland.

Although Finland achieved the 0.7 per cent level in 1991, development co-operation aid suffered worse than any other item in the Finnish State budget during the recession of the early 1990s. The level of aid slumped to well below 0.4 per cent of GNP. Since then the nominal sum has risen, but the proportion has stayed at around 0.34 per cent. In its draft budget for 2001 the government has even reduced this still further to 0,335 per cent, despite the fact that this is already the seventh consecutive year of sustained economic growth.

(08.10.2000 - Daryl Taylor**) It has been observed that Finland is the Promised Land of associations. If you put twelve Finns in a church boat and tell them to row from Lahti to Jyväskylä, they will quickly form at least three associations: those favouring a route near to the eastern shore of the lake, those preferring the western shore, and those insisting that the best policy is to row straight down the middle. They will then select representatives to negotiate a settlement respecting one fundamental fact: everyone must row with maximum enthusiasm and in the same direction.

This story at least partly explains why the level of trade union membership in Finland is so extraordinarily high. Some 85 per cent of all employees belong to a trade union and in some occupations the organising rate is very nearly 100 per cent. Irrespective of individual political and other conviction, very many Finns feel that joining a union is the natural and obvious thing to do.

The logic of the trade union movement is a simple one and is the same everywhere. The main role of a union is to defend the interests of the employee, who is the weaker party in an employment contract. For most employees the labour market is generally a buyer's market.

Helsinki (21.09.2000 - Juhani Artto) In a seminar held in the Finnish south coast town of Porvoo at the end of August the Nordic graphical workers union umbrella NGU sought answers to the question "Nordic female energy - how do we utilise it?" At the beginning of the seminar representatives of the five Nordic countries and the NGU chairman, Finn Erik Thoresen from Norway, explained to the Finnish union magazine Kirjatyö how they view the present role of women in the labour market and in trade union organisations.

Thoresen and Malte Eriksson, who chairs the Swedish Grafiska Fackförbundet organisation, participated in the events of the first day of the two day seminar. "This is the first time that the NGU gentlemen have been involved in the women's meeting. It's a good sign", commented Irene Hämäläinen from Finland. Irene Hämäläinen is the Director of the Finnish union's unemployment fund and is one of its leading women.

Helsinki (08.09.2000 - Juhani Artto) The Estonian chemical workers union has folded. Its existence ended at the end of June. Before the abolition the union organised ten per cent of the 16,000 employee industry. Much of this sector is based on Estonia's abundant bituminous shale deposits.

The members of the defunct union have mainly joined the Estonian energy workers union. A minority went over to the Tallinn technical trade union.

Several factors led to the abolition. During the 1990s the industry underwent a difficult restructuring process. The union was unable to defend its members' rights amidst changes characterised by bankruptcies and privatisation. New enterprises were established without union representation.

Helsinki (15.08.2000 - Juhani Artto) Last year in Finland 5,182 cases of occupational illness were reported. This meant an eight per cent increase over 1998. The 1999 incidence rate was 23 cases per 10,000 employed workers.

With 1,356 cases the most common illnesses were due to repetitive strain injury. The highest incidence rate occurred in food-processing work with 68 cases per 10,000 employed workers, compared to a national average of 59.

Cases of occupational skin disease totalled 1,006. The incidence rate was highest in food-processing and agriculture. The most common causes of skin diseases were detergents.

Cases of noise-induced hearing loss numbered 988. The incidence rate was highest in the pulp and paper industry.

Helsinki (11.08.2000 - Juhani Artto) At the end of June there were 326,000 unemployed job-seekers registered at employment offices in Finland. Despite rapid economic growth since 1994 the unemployment rate still exceeds ten per cent.

Recently the Ministry of Labour published a study estimating that society loses FIM 36 billion (EUR 1 = FIM 5.95) annually due to unemployment. This figure comprises public financial support to the unemployed and lost tax revenues.

In Spring 1995 the newly appointed government of Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen set itself the target of halving the unemployment rate. When the Lipponen government began its second term of office in Spring 1999 it still had a long way to go before reaching this objective. The number of unemployed workers must still be reduced by a further 100,000.

Helsinki (25.07.2000 - Juhani Artto) As the practice of competitive tendering for public services has increased, experience of its mixed results have made a large majority of Finns doubt the wisdom of such arrangements. According to a recent opinion poll, 84 per cent of the Finns think that competitive tendering goes too far when it reduced the pay of employees and undermines their job security. However one third of respondents felt that competitive tendering of public services was inevitable.

Another topic of concern is subcontracting. Almost one half of the Finns (49 per cent) regard increased subcontracting as a move in the wrong direction. Opinions are nevertheless divided, as 37 per cent are favourably disposed towards increased subcontracting. 52 per cent believe that subcontracting improves the proifitability of enterprises, but 67 per cent fear that it weakens the position of employees.

Helsinki (11.07.2000) Collective agreements signed this year awarded a 3.1 per cent pay rise to more than 90 per cent of Finland's 2.2 million wage and salary earners. A few industrial unions have also been able to squeeze slightly higher increases through strikes and strike threats and by accepting two and three year agreements instead of the one year agreements signed by others.

Finland's Labour Research Institute estimates that the increases based on the new collective agreements and sliding scales mean an average four per cent rise in wages and salaries. While this is above the EU average, it poses no threat to the competitiveness of Finnish industry which is exceptionally strong at the moment. The downward slide of the euro against the US dollar, the pound sterling and the Swedish crown is one of the factors underlying this strength.

In 1998-1999 Finnish wages and salaries increased at a rate which was clearly lower than the European Union average.