Helsinki (08.01.2000 - Juhani Artto) There was good news to usher in the new millennium for the Finnish shipbuilding industry. Masa-Yards, the leading shipbuilding company in Finland, won an order for a Spirit-class luxury cruise liner worth about FIM 2,000 million (EUR 330 million, USD 350 million). This matches jobs for 5,000 employees for one year.

In spite of this, the future of the industry in Finland and the other EU Member States is under serious threat. The global market share of the EU shipbuilding industry has fallen below 20 per cent. Ten years ago it was about 30 per cent.

The industry blames the loss on South Korea's aggressive expansion campaign, which the EU and European companies claim to be based on unfair subsidies. According to European sources, the South Koreans have reduced their prices below the level of material costs alone in the worst tenders.

Helsinki (09.12.1999 - Juhani Artto) The 19,000-member Textile and Garment Workers' Union in Finland is the first European trade union in this industry to introduce a code of conduct in its collective agreement. This is an important step forward in enforcing the 1997 agreement reached by the industry's European labour market partners Euratex and ETUC:TCL.

In the 1997 agreement the partners called on their members actively to encourage enterprises and workers in the European textile and clothing industry to comply with the following principles in ILO Conventions:

  • Forced labour, slave labour and prison labour are to be prohibited (Conventions 29 and 105).
  • The right of workers to form and join a trade union, as well as the right of employers to organise, shall be recognised. Employers and workers may negotiate freely and independently (Conventions 87 and 98).
  • Child labour shall be forbidden. Children under 15 or younger than the age of completion of compulsory schooling in the countries concerned shall not be admitted to work (Convention 138).
  • Workers shall be employed on the basis of their ability to work and not on the basis of their race, individual characteristics, creed, political opinion or social origin (Convention 111).

(30.11.1999 - Juhani Artto) "Europe's economy has not developed structurally in recent decades and its competitiveness has shown little progress. The productivity of labour in the USA is still about a fifth higher and the rate of economic growth there is more rapid than in Europe", said Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen recently at a European seminar organised in Helsinki by Finland's leading daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat.

"The gap between EU and USA employment rates, which dates from the 1970s, is still significant. Mainly, it can be explained by the number of people employed in the service sector. In the EU this corresponds to a lack of about 36 million jobs. This failure to utilise resources undermines the long term prospects of our economy."

According to Lipponen, the central goal of structural reforms is to increase the employment rate. "If the EU employment rate currently averaging 60 per cent could be raised to the level of the Community's best regions, i.e. to more than 70 per cent, then the number of people employed would increase by over 30 million."

(18.11.1999 - Kaisa Kauppinen*, Leenamaija Otala*) Over the last decades, the activity rate of women in paid work has increased throughout Europe and has been one of the major changes affecting our societies in general, and workplaces in particular.

In Finland, the activity rate of women has traditionally been high and today it is almost identical with that of men. Many reasons explain this increase: the recognition of women's high level of education, the wish for autonomy, and the necessity of a double income. Women still face problems at work when striving for the same status as men (the "glass ceiling"), and they are still overwhelmingly responsible for the family and domestic duties.

(01.11.1999) In the European Union average hourly labour costs in industry in 1996 ranged from 6.1 ECU in Portugal to 26.5 ECU in Germany. Both the USA (17.4) and Japan (19.7) fell below EU-15 average of 20.2 ECU.

Labour costs accounted on average for some two-thirds of production costs of goods and services.

The Eurostat report says labour costs in Belgium, Austria and Sweden were close to Germany's at the top end of the range, with Finland and Luxembourg closest to the EU average. Costs in Ireland were more in line with southern countries - above Portugal and Greece but below Italy and Spain.

Sortavala, Russia (14.10.1999 - Juhani Artto) Most of the economic news from Russia which reaches Finland and the rest of the world is negative and gloomy. In the 1990s expectations of an upturn - of economic growth and the establishment of a basis for a healthy new start - have unfortunately repeatedly proved unrealistic. In spite of this, millions of Russians and friends of the country elsewhere in the world have continued their efforts to get this huge country moving.

This was the starting point for a group of Finnish journalists which visited the 2,190 square kilometre Sortavala district just over the Fenno-Russian border in mid-October. While the major problems of the region did not surprise the experienced Finnish journalists, visits to three enterprises and discussions with the Republic of Carelia trade union leader Gennadi Salaponov gave concrete reasons for cautious optimism.

Helsinki (23.09.1999 - UP/Mika Peltonen) One condition for Eastern European countries seeking EU membership is that they must have functioning labour market systems. However, it would be useless to press for the Finnish collective bargaining model because the required leap would be too great.

There is no need to insist on legislative reforms in the applicant States as in any case they must apply EU directives and the current legislation of the Union. Instead we should improve labour market systems and practices.

"The problems lie in how to implement the goals. The emphasis is on ensuring the existence of labour market partners and organised collective bargaining", says Turo Bergman, representing the Finnish trade union movement on the ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation) enlargement task force.

Helsinki (14.09.1999 - Veikko Tarvainen/Reaktio*) How can individuals find self-fulfilment in their work? Dr Kimmo Kevätsalo has analysed this question at length and with great thoroughness. His recently approved thesis "Stiff flexibilities and wasted resources" considers this and several other important aspects of working life.

Dr Kevätsalo has spent 30 years working for the Metalworkers Union, the first half of this time as a journalist for the union's magazine Ahjo and the remainder as a researcher. In the last few years he has also managed a consulting company advising on aspects of working life.

"In my thesis I have refuted the prevailing sugarcandy image suggesting that Finnish working life is rapidly changing for the better. Only at the top level are things going well. Nowadays, the majority of employees are in an endangered situation. The threats have grown in the 1990s, especially in the industrial sector."

Helsinki (02.09.1999 - Juhani Artto) In 1987 about 11 per cent of wage and salary earners in Finland were in temporary jobs. By last year this figure had already reached 17.5 per cent (women 20.6 %, men 14.6 %).

An amendment to the Employment Contracts Act took effect in February 1997 which in practise legalised the common manner, particularly among service sector employers, of concatenating fixed term jobs. This means that employers may legally employ the same worker again and again in fixed term jobs.

According to a study made in 1997-1998, almost a third of temporary workers (32 %) were substituting for employees on maternity leave or absent for other reasons. In 29 per cent of cases the nature of the work made it reasonable - from the employers' point of view - to engage a temporary worker. This is a practicality when producing goods and services for which demand fluctuates greatly. In 23 per cent of cases the reasons were so vague that even the employees concerned did not know the employers' motivation.

Helsinki (25.08.1999 - Juhani Artto) Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen's new government included in its programme a brief remark on the need to restrain international capital transfers. The programme gives no hints about what kind of concrete means could be considered for this.

In late June the Metalworkers Union President Per-Erik Lundh came out with one such concrete proposal: he is in favour of applying a mechanism known as the Tobin tax. In practise this means that the international community should levy a small tax on short-term international capital transfers. The goal would mainly be to discourage the speculative transfers that cause instability in the global financial system as a whole. A major proportion of the more than USD 1,000 billion dollar daily transfers are purely speculative.

Lundh's position gives momentum to the Tobin tax demand in Finland where Kepa, the umbrella organisation for NGOs in international development work, has recently started to campaign for a global Tobin tax.