Nurses in the front of salary-fight in Finland?

Article publsihed in the Italian Liberazione, June 2007

Very soon after the parliament election in March where the bourgeois parties won and a bourgeois government was built, it became clear that the famous finnish tri-partite negotiations system had been left out of interest. Making large collective agreements to all branches so that there has been a solidarity element for low-wage earners as well as large social-policy reforms seems now to be history.

The collective agreements are going to expire in the early autumn. Some of the industry unions have already begun their branch-level negotiations, but the large number of wage-earners are going to have to wait until late autumn before they have any solutions of their future salaries. The female-dominate branches – mostly on public and service sectors may be in difficulties. As the women’s euro still is 80 cents the pressure to higher women’s´ wages more than on male-dominate sectors is high. Especially discussion has been lively concerning nurses wages.

In Finland there are three trade union central organisations, from which SAK with its´ one million members is the biggest. It organizes mostly the blue-collar workers. The nurses belong to the white-collar workers STTK. Of course there are many profession groups allied in SAK who earn less than nurses, so there may come a lively discussion if only the nurses should have the right to get more than other groups.  Every fourth Finnish salary-earner is working with temporary contracts. Most of them are women in all professions, even academics. Now a days women are higher educated than men but they have difficulties to get permanent jobs.

Earlier the textile and garment workers were the most famous low wage earners but now nobody is talking about their situation. Maybe the reason is that they are so few left. Their work is now made in even lower wage countries as China and other Far-Eastern countries.
They were the first industrial workers group who lost their workplaces but now the same fenomen is concerning even the electric sector. The Nokia suppliers in Finland are moving their work to China as well.

Finnish population is ageing and there is a fear of great lack of nurses and other healthcare professionals. The great baby-boomers who were born on the years just after the World War II are soon going to retire. As in many other European countries the birth-rate now is very low so there is a quite realistic fear that it is difficult to get hands enough (workers) to branches where the work is hard and which are low paid.

Until the early 90´s Finland has been a unimous country with very little immigrants.
From the 5 million population only 2 present have immigrant back ground. Most of them have come as refugees or for family reasons. Now the previous Finnish government wanted the change the situation and the present government has the same aim: to increase work-based immigration.

Finland is on its´ way to multicultural society. But active work has to be done to change the peoples´  attitudes positive to immigrants. The normal country-man is not yet used to people coming from different cultures. Still today it is very difficult for foreigners to get permanent jobs in Finland. The biggest new-comers are people from the former Russia and Estonia. They have it easier to employ themselves but big difficulties have people coming f.g. from Iraq, Iran, Afganistan and Somalia. Very often these people have immigrant back ground.

So although Finnish women were the first in the world to get the right to wote and even in the first parliament election 101 years ago 19 women were elected in the parliament compared with todays 84 out of 200 and although finnish society is said to be a predecessor in equality  questions, a lot of work is still to be done to get womens position in the labour market better.

Auli Korhonen
The writer works in the central organisation of Finnish trade unions, SAK, as coordinator-planner and is a member of ESF-committee

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