Nurses’ union rejects pay offer and calls for industrial action

The Union of Health and Social Care Professionals has rejected the municipal employers’ pay and working conditions offer. The union is demanding a 24% increase to rectify what it sees as unreasonably low pay. This would amount to increments of between €400 and €600 in monthly pay over the two-and-a-half years that the contract would be in force. The union has announced that it will organise mass resignations from 19 November 2007.

The Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Terveyden- ja sosiaalihuoltoalan ammattijärjestö, Tehy) has unanimously rejected the pay and working conditions offer proposed by the Commission for Local Authority Employers (Kunnallinen työmarkkinalaitos, KT). In addition, the trade union declared a ban on overtime and rota change at the beginning of October 2007. Tehy outlined in a statement on 8 October that its General Council would convene the following day to discuss more detailed wage demands and to decide what form its industrial action would take. The union added that it had asked its members whether they were willing to consider mass resignations. The Chair of Tehy, Jaana Laitinen-Pesola, underlined that mass resignations were among at least three separate industrial action strategies being considered by the council.

Nurses ready for mass resignations

On 15 October, Tehy announced that about 13,000 nurses were ready to hand in their resignations, effective from 19 November. Until that time, the nurses will be working as normal, although a ban on overtime is still in force. Meanwhile, the National Conciliator, Juhani Salonius, has started to arbitrate the dispute. Mr Salonius admits that the views of the two sides are so polarised that he expects the mediation efforts to take the full time allotted before the 19 November deadline.

Mrs Laitinen-Pesola of Tehy predicted that, if the action begins, it would paralyse Finland’s healthcare system: about 40% of the Tehy-affiliated personnel in the hospitals involved would be off work. Tehy has also imposed an embargo on applications for trained nursing personnel posts.

Each individual nurse must decide independently whether or not to join the campaign. Those who formally resign from their positions would not enjoy the same level of job security as workers taking part in a regular strike. Nonetheless, the shortage of nurses will act as a security measure, as Tehy insists that none of those taking part in the action will return to work until everyone is taken back. The union is demanding a 24% pay increase to rectify what it sees as unreasonably low pay. This would amount to monthly pay increments of between €400 and €600 over the two-and-a-half years that the contract would be in force.

Government urges union to be realistic

In a joint press conference, Finland’s Prime Minister, Matti Vanhanen, and the Minister of Finance and Chair of the National Coalition Party (Kokoomus), Jyrki Katainen, stated that the municipalities would not be assigned extra funds to help cover the nurses’ wage increases. Mr Vanhanen explained that all of the parties involved in the municipal pay and conditions talks were aware of the financial boundaries and that additional funding was not forthcoming. He expressed his hopes that the arbitration under Mr Salonius would yield a satisfactory settlement.

At the same time, Mr Katainen urged the nurses to be realistic. The minister argued that a strike was a bad alternative for all concerned, adding that: ‘All wage-earners have the right to defend their own interests and employment terms, but what we need now is realism to find the best solution.’ Mr Katainen pointed out that not all injustices could be mended all at once, adding that KT’s proposal was close to what he originally had in mind. The minister estimates that the state’s share of the costs of the municipal wage agreement amounts to €400 million, €150 million of which was earmarked for the additional ‘equality package’ and the remainder for compensation for municipal salaries (FI0705029I). Mr Katainen repeated that further funds could not be allocated at present.

Public divided over nurses’ pay dispute

According to opinion polls, the Finnish public are divided over the nurses’ demand for a larger pay rise than other employees. Some 55% of people who were interviewed by the independent market research company Taloustutkimus for the newspaper Aamulehti agreed that the nurses deserved a bigger pay rise than other municipal workers, while 35% of the respondents believed that they did not. About two thirds of the respondents considered that the nursing unions’ wage demands were acceptable.

Meanwhile, some 61% of people who were interviewed for a poll commissioned by the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) stated that they approved of the mass resignation planned by Tehy. A quarter of the respondents said that they did not approve, while the remaining 13% gave no answer or had no opinion on the matter. In this survey, Taloustutkimus, commissioned by YLE, interviewed about 1,000 people by telephone.

Pertti Jokivuori, Statistics Finland

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