Moves towards local bargaining

Recent statements by leading figures in Finnish trade unions and employers' organisations have thrown light on a possible new, more flexible model for collective bargaining, which may be discussed in the forthcoming incomes policy negotiations in winter 1997.

Finnish collective bargaining practice is about to change as the central organisations seek a new model for bargaining. Centralised bargaining began to give way to more localised bargaining about two years ago as a number of issues in collective agreements negotiable on local level began to increase. Previously, employers in both small and large businesses had demanded a greater degree of flexibility but their demands were usually refused by the trade unions. However, the trade unions are now taking a more positive view of flexibility and local bargaining because of the high levels of unemployment and the positive feedback they have been receiving from workplaces.

At a joint seminar on "Local bargaining in small and medium-sized enterprises" held in July 1997 by the Confederation of Finnish Industry and Employers (TT) and the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), Pekka Ahmavaara, the left-wing vice chair of the SAK executive committee of the spoke about the changes in trade unions' attitudes. "Changes in the economy and in industrial life require more flexibility and the coverage of local bargaining is increasing. These changes are especially significant to the small and medium-sized enterprises " (SMEs), he stated.

The central organisations have been drawing up guidelines for the future development of collective bargaining. According to Mr Ahmavaara, the aim is to create a three-stage system where the central organisations will set out a general policy framework for collective bargaining and the sectoral organisations will define the range of different alternatives as to how collective bargaining can be conducted in each industry. The implementation will be agreed upon at local level in accordance with the special needs of each workplace. In Mr Ahmavaara's opinion, the renewal of the general agreement in spring 1997 was a significant step in the right direction.

According to Mr Ahmavaara, local bargaining requires developments in working life. The first requirement of local bargaining is that the aim of both bargaining parties is mutual cooperation. Both parties are starting to understand this. The second basic precondition is the equality of the cooperating parties. It is important that the employees' representatives work in close cooperation with others in the preparation process and that they are party to all the information they need. "The stronger the bargaining power of the employees, the more issues can be solved freely at local level," states Mr Ahmavaara. He also thought that the development of local bargaining would be a plausible subject for the forthcoming incomes policy negotiations.

TT has been advocating the need for flexibility and local bargaining for some time. Tapani Kahri, the deputy managing director of TT, believes that it should be possible to come to agreements locally on pay and terms of employment more flexibly than at present

The opinions of a number of people on the left of the political spectrum, who earlier took a negative view of flexibility, provide further evidence of moves towards more flexibility. An editorial in Kansan Uutiset, a left-wing newspaper, on 7 August 1997, stated that the trade unions have started to realise that modern working life requires more local bargaining. According to the newspaper article, employees are ready to participate in a form of local bargaining within predefined limits and also to ensure that the scope of bargaining at national level is within agreed boundaries. The article goes on to stress that the bargaining process needs clear rules to ensure an equality of bargaining power between the two sides. One significant precondition for this is to ensure that all trade union representatives are fully trained.

In principle, both sides of industry are adopting a more positive stance and it can be expected that workplace bargaining and increased flexibility will feature in the forthcoming negotiations on incomes policy. These negotiations will also be concerned with the problems of high unemployment. Given the inexperience of the Finnish social partners in dealing with issues of local bargaining, the negotiations will not be unproblematic.

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