Metalworkers' Union prepared to accept incomes policy agreement limited to pay

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The chair of the Finnish Metalworkers' Union, affiliated to the SAK confederation, announced in August 1999 that a deal guaranteeing a steady rise in real wages could be sufficient for the country's next national incomes policy agreement. At the same time, however, some other SAK affiliates, such as the Paper Workers' Union, have stressed the importance of solving sector-specific problems.

In August 1999, Per Erik Lundh, chair of the Metalworkers' Union, an affiliate of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiliittojen Keskusjärjestö, SAK) informed the press (as quoted in an interview with Demari newspaper) that he would be satisfied with a national incomes policy agreement basically limited to wage increases and tax cuts, once the current agreement expires in 2000 (FI9905104F) There have been four successive years covered by income policy agreements and Finland is now in its fifth year of economic growth, which the union feels should be reflected more in wage increases. Some other SAK-affiliated unions, such as the Paper Workers' Union, are seeking to conclude sectoral agreements with better pay rises and solutions for sector-specific problems (like outsourcing). The Metalworkers' Union, the largest industrial union in Finland, has thus now taken a completely different stand from the Paper Workers' Union, which is much smaller in terms of membership, but nevertheless a powerful union due to its importance in the export sector.

In terms of proposals for the forthcoming incomes policy agreement, Mr Lundh is aiming for improvements in, and stabilisation of, the employment rate and for a lower inflation rate. The recent development of the metalworking sector has been very irregular. On the one hand there has been rapid growth in the electronics industry, and on the other hand the growth of the traditional engineering industry has been slowing down. For this reason, a bonus system has been created for deciding how to use the profits of a particular company. Since the engineering industry is not so profitable, Mr Lundh considers it important that the incomes policy agreement guarantees wage increases which apply to this part of metalworking as well.

Regarding the approaching incomes policy negotiations in autumn 1999, the labour movement has decided that no agreement can be reached unless the principle of "general validity" of collective agreements is guaranteed (ie, their application to all employers and employees in a sector, whether or not they are members of the signatory organisations). The Metalworkers' Union is making relatively few demands, setting out some minimum conditions for pay increases and tax cuts to ensure that a rise in real earning power results in increases in purchasing power. Tax changes must give more support to low and medium wage earners, compared with those with a large income. According to Mr Lundh, the incomes policy agreement must be as extensive as possible. In his opinion, insignificant small trade unions may be left out of the agreement, but under the new economic circumstances of EU Economic and Monetary Union, all the key unions should be involved. The Paper Workers' Union is so central that without it no agreement can be reached, says Mr Lundh.

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