The right to strike is one of the most crucial instruments in the trade union movement’s toolbox. It is the last resort for wage and salary earners should collective bargaining fail.
The Finnish constitution guarantees the freedom to organise in a trade union. The right to strike is also guaranteed under Finnish legislation.
A strike means employees temporarily stop work. It can be a total work stoppage or cover only some part of the work done in the company or in the branch. The union decides the form, length and coverage of the strike. A strike is always a collective measure, not individual.
Employment continues during the strike, but without salary. To compensate for this loss, the unions offer strike pay. The union is responsible for the strike, not individual employees. The employer has no right to pressure or discriminate against striking people in any way, neither during the strike nor after it.
The Finnish constitution guarantees the freedom to organise in a trade union.
Once a collective agreement is signed strikes against it become illegal. Employers buy industrial peace with the agreement, too. During that time, even short strikes are considered illegal. The Labour Court decides on such cases. It may also order the union or its local chapter to pay a fine. Individual union members never have to pay fines, always the union.
But, once the agreement expires, there is no legal restriction on strikes. The union planning to strike must deliver a strike warning no later than 14 days before the start of the strike. It is given to the employer and the National Conciliator.
There can also be fully legal strikes that do not focus on the collective agreement. A sympathy strike is organised to show support for the strike of another branch or union. It is a solidarity action for people usually in a very difficult situation in their own collective bargaining.
Another legal form of a strike is a political strike. It is not against one’s own collective agreement but, for instance, a demonstration against some planned legislation to undermine the position of wage and salary earners.
Strange Government plans afoot
Since June, Finland has had a very right-wing government led by PM Petteri Orpo. It combines swinging the balance in the labour market in favour of employers and company owners with making life harder for immigrants.
As one of their most urgent tasks, the government plans to curb the right to strike this autumn. One plan is to limit the right to conduct political strikes. According to the Government Programme, this right shall be limited to one day.
The same urgency concerns union solidarity actions. These should be ”proportionate in relation to the objectives” and ”only affect the parties to the labour dispute”. This would mean goodbye to solidarity actions for weaker unions in need.
A strange and perhaps not even legal plan is to make union members pay a 200 euro fine should they continue a strike which the Labour Court has found to be unlawful. The purpose of this is obviously to scare people away from joining strikes in general. However, the fine would only cover those extremely rare cases when illegal strikes continue after a court decision.
These government ideas are not yet laws. But one thing is certain, unions will defend their members’ right to strike.