SAK publishes employment programme

In August 2003, the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) published an 'employment programme', proposing measures to raise labour market participation rates, increase employment and cut unemployment. The programme deals with matters such as economic policy, taxation, education and the ageing labour force. One of the main ideas is to promote earlier entrance to the labour market through a more efficient education system.

The Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiliittojen Keskusjärjestö, SAK) published its own 'employment programme' in August 2003. It proposes 17 measures to raise the labour market participation rate, cut unemployment and promote employment, especially for those whose labour market position is weak. The programme also includes long-term proposals that take into account problems caused by the ageing of the labour force.

In late 2002, the Prime Minister appointed a working group to draw up a package of proposals on the economic and employment policy strategies through which the Finnish employment rate could be raised to 75% and unemployment reduced to below 5% by the end of the decade. The group's final report, published in March 2003 (FI0304201N), suggested measures such as cuts and other changes to unemployment benefits and pensions, which were strongly rejected by SAK. The latter's new programme can thus be seen partly as a reaction to the group's proposals, as well as to concerns arising from an increasing number of job losses during recent months.

European Union monetary policy is criticised by SAK for not taking into account economic growth and employment aspects, but concentrating too much on the inflation target. The SAK programme supports the Finnish domestic fiscal policy of recent years and especially recent tax cuts (FI0304202F), although these cuts could, it believes, be more strongly targeted on income from work rather than firms and capital income. SAK states that lowering value added tax on labour-intensive services would help in creating new jobs. Redundancies are considered too cheap for companies in Finland, compared with many other EU Member States, and this, it is claimed, can lead to situations where large multinational firms prefer to make their staff cuts in Finland, especially when they have a general need to lower labour costs (FI0209102F). The SAK programme also calls for the tripartite preparation of employment and training programmes, as well as more emphasis on preventive employment policy actions.

SAK supports creating special 'employment service centres' to help those facing special difficulties in finding a job. These centres should, it is proposed, be opened around the country in 2004. The aim is also to increase cooperation between the authorities responsible for labour administration, education and social affairs. Possibilities for so called 'social entrepreneurship' should be promoted. Employment services for immigrant workers should be increased and their education obtained elsewhere should be better utilised on the Finnish labour market - at the moment, the employment rate for foreign workers is only around 40%. Unemployment among older and less educated workers could, it is suggested, be prevented by supplying more training and supervision. It is regarded as essential to get such people back into employment quickly after they have lost their jobs due to structural changes in firms. The SAK programme also proposes concrete measures to decrease age discrimination, which is also seen as resulting from attitudes. The participation of older workers can be increased, it is proposed, by improving management skills by promoting flexible working conditions. Furthermore, SAK believes that the risks of sickness and disability could be more equally divided among all employers through a mutual insurance system - a proposal which is under tripartite preparation.

The long-term measures proposed by SAK aim to lengthen working careers, not only through later retirement but also through earlier entrance to the labour market. This means both earlier entrance following education and shorter courses. Achieving this aim could be helped by reforming selection methods for education, as well as through better financial support and more efficient supervision during studies. Education should be also better combined with the requirements of working life, while working life should be better combined with family life.

The SAK programme also raises the issue of a 'social guarantee' for young people, whereby every person under the age of 25 should be offered opportunities for education, training or work after three month’s unemployment. These measures should be tailor-made for each client through cooperation between the different relevant authorities. Due to the retirement of the 'baby boom' generation in the near future, there is seen to be a special need for an efficient transfer of tasks and knowledge from the older generation to the younger one. The government is preparing a special action plan on this issue in cooperation with the social partners.

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