Negotiations on more flexible working conditions and unemployment benefits for workers

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Independent and pluralistic labour market organisation (STTK)

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a sea change in working life in Finland. For some workers this has meant a shift to remote working; for others dealing with increased health risks in the workplace and during their commute; and for yet others temporarily stopping work or being furloughed. In Finland the social partners and trade unions have been actively involved in managing the coronavirus crisis and containing its effects on the labour market. The trade union confederations and associations have provided information about employees' rights and obligations during the crisis, and have helped to sort out practical problems and mitigate the contagion risk in workplaces. Examples of practical measures include addressing PPE issues in the care sector, ensuring people working remotely had an internet connection, proper equipment or insurance, and checking that the unemployment insurance system paid out benefits efficiently.

When the crisis started, the umbrella organisations quickly reached an agreement in Finland to make measures like furloughing more flexible and strengthen unemployment insurance. Agreements were negotiated in cooperation with the national government to protect the livelihoods of companies, workplaces and people. Since the start of the crisis, there has been cooperation both between the social partners and within tripartite and broader working groups set up by government. As the crisis continued, the first agreement was followed by another, in which previous measures were extended. The parties also looked at the potential for occupational health services to actively test workers for coronavirus, considered whether there was enough money in the unemployment fund, and assessed the support provided to municipalities. Social partner organisations presented a joint list of measures to facilitate skills updating and distance learning.

The organisation that I represent, STTK, was not only actively involved in national crisis management and finding solutions for the post-crisis recovery, but also closely monitored EU measures during the crisis. Through our cooperation with the Nordic countries and in Europe we were part of the debate about the consequences of closing internal borders and relieving border hold-ups caused by the emergency. Democratic rights have been encroached on in almost every EU country as a result of the various emergency measures. The temporary restrictions on movement, gatherings and business activities were authorised in these exceptional circumstances to protect the public. Now that societies are opening up again, it is crucially important that obstacles be removed and that exceptional measures and the centralisation of power be discontinued.

We have also stressed the indispensability of EU-level solutions for Finland’s national recovery.