Finnish Unions Suspend Month’s Long Port Strike to Facilitate Talks

Singapore freight forwarders – Star Concord
04-Apr-2024

 

Finland’s central trade union announced that it will suspend its political strike that has stopped the movement of much of the country’s cargo in an effort to start talks with the government. The unions representing cargo handlers, drivers, and other segments went on strike on March 11 over planned social welfare benefit cuts and have been extending their strike week by week as the government refused to negotiate.

The strike will continue till 0600 on Monday, April 8 targeting cargo movement in the ports as well as trains. According to the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) approximately 7,000 members are striking calling for the government to reverse cuts in social welfare and stop laws that would limit sympathy strikes while giving more authority for local labor agreements instead of the country’s tradition of broad collective bargaining agreements reached with the union’s central organization.

The union has been calling for negotiations with the recently elected prime minister and his government. Petteri Orpo, the leader of the conservative National Coalition Party, became Finland’s new prime minister in June 2023 by building a right-wing collation running on a platform of austerity and reducing the country’s extensive social programs.

“The government has advised us that it will not seek any settlement with employee organizations while strikes continue. No new decisions were made to continue strike action, and we shall now give the Orpo-Purra Government an opportunity to react,” said Jarkko Eloranta, president of SAK. The trade union organization is suspending the strike for at least two weeks, saying “The ball is in the Prime Minister’s court.”

The strike included the cargo operations of Viking Line. It involved the Industrial Union, the Finnish Transport Workers’ Union (AKT), the Service Union United (PAM), the Finnish Construction Trade Union, the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors (JHL), and the Electrical Workers’ Union. 

During the strike, major carriers including Maersk and CMA CGM advised customers that they were omitting calls at Finland’s port and not able to transport cargo. CMA CGM recently advised customers that it was offloading cargo bound for Finland in Tallinn, Estonia giving them the option of paying to store containers till they could continue the voyage or for customers to take delivery in Estonia. 

It was expected that approximately 10,000 containers per week would be impacted with the unions saying they would halt all but essential imports and exports. Some shippers have been able to use the passenger ferries which continue to run but much of the country’s cargo has been waiting.

With rumors that the government was exploring further cuts to the social welfare program, SAK is now calling for a “reasonable approach to anti-strike laws and common sense in expanding local collective bargaining.” They are also calling for the government to prepare an assessment of the impact of the measures taken to be reviewed as part of the mid-terms in the spring of 2025.

It is hoped the two-week pause will provide some relief to the pressures on the supply chain. So far, it is unclear if the government will commence talks. The unions’ executive board is due to reconvene on April 18 to assess progress.
 

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