Old article I wrote about the power of Unions in Finland:
This Friday Finland will essentially shutdown. Flight traffic will stop, trains will no longer run, buses won’t be an option, the metro will stand still, and even the harbor will be on strike. Furthermore, Police and emergency services will run on minimal personnel, many schools will close, and several day-cares will not operate. The list goes on, but you get the idea, the country of Finland will practically shutdown in protest this Friday.
The Government is set to slash many legally imposed benefits. Pay increases for overtime and Sunday work have been reduced, sick day pay has been reduced, and holidays have been shortened. No matter how good your benefits stay, this is likely to make anyone upset – If not at least question the decision for the cuts.
Finland has some incredible benefits: increased wages due to overtime, night work, and Sundays are all mandated by law.
Much of my own life has been working the night shift, simply because it was what was available. Before moving to Finland I would never have questioned the difference between day, night, or Sunday work. Living here has given me an ever growing view of worker’s rights as well as a better understanding of why certain benefits exist.
These benefits exist with good reason, as these tend to be days of added hardship. Imagine not heading back home from work to see your children before they sleep, not having time to spend a night out with friends because you’re headed to work, or not having a nice relaxed Sunday barbecue with family and friends. To top it off night work and overwork have been scientifically shown to have negatively effects on one’s physical and mental health; while weekend work can negatively impact relationships with family and friends.
There is little question that these are hardships, yet throughout the world many of us work these days without question, no extra pay, and no complaints. you simply do what you have to do to survive. It can be said that the market decides this, as long as there are people demanding work there is no need to supplement their wage. In this scenario wage only increases when enough people are unwilling to take on said hardship. But is this right? Do we live in a world where we wish to disregard the rights of our laborers? Up to this point the Finnish system has tried to offset the negative impact in quality of life by ensuring substantial benefits. Benefits that are now seeing cuts.
The US does fine without benefits or unions!
This argument has come up often throughout media and in conversation. Without a doubt the US holds its rank as the strongest economy in the world. This all without anywhere near the same amount of unions or mandated benefits as seen in most European countries.
But is our goal as a nation simply to have a strong economy? The US has shown strength in its recovery, new jobs are appearing daily. But we must also keep in mind that the US is a country where you can still find homes without running water, straight pipes dumping human waste directly into rivers, and children who struggle to get three meals a day. It is the country that sits between Romania and Latvia as 34th in child poverty. A country where hospital bills can leave you homeless. Could it be worse? Yes, but then again what good do these comparisons do? Simply put, Finland is not the US. The question we must ask is: does Finland want a temporarily rapid growing economy or a constant guaranteed quality life for its citizens?
The proposed cuts are in place in an effort to increase demand for Finnish exports by decreasing their costs. If cuts are in fact the only choice Finland has, why have they been placed in such a fashion that will disproportionately affect certain workers. Your typical Monday through Friday 9-5 office worker is the least effected, but nurses and emergency care workers will have their wages reduced by thousands of Euros.
Some go as far as to say people will just stop working on Sundays or avoid overtime. This is unlikely. I would wager that most would even work with no pay increase. You do what you have to do to earn a living.
My own fear is that these cuts will do nothing but increase unemployment. Why would I ever think to stay home sick if my pay will be docked? I’m better off going to work with lower productivity while infecting my coworkers. Why would you hire a part time worker when you can just push your current worker for longer hours?
Most of Finland’s workforce is represented by Unions. Without the protections these unions provide, Finland’s workforce would lose its voice.
I for one support Friday’s strikes. Regardless if it brings any change, it is important for the Finnish people to be able to voice their disapproval. It is patronizing to say Finnish residents don’t have it bad – no matter how our society compares worldwide, it is important to always strive to move forward.
Disclaimer: I understand that much of this text will be of debate, this is currently a hot topic in Finland. There are many different views, and differing arguments on what is the best path for Finland’s future.