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JUHANI ARTTO
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Industrial action by transport workers ensures full-time jobs

Helsinki (22.11.2004 – Juhani Artto, Daryl Taylor) A strike by bus drivers over the rapidly growing use of part-time drivers ended yesterday after the Finnish Transport Workers' Union approved an offer by the employers to give full-time jobs to all part-timers who prefer to drive full-time. The proposal also includes a promise not to increase the use of part-time drivers before the present collective agreement expires in January 2006.

The strike lasted for almost two weeks.

The problem concerned two foreign-owned transport companies. Connex, with 56,000 employees, is Europe's largest private passenger transport company. The Connex Group is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the global corporation Veolia Environment (formerly Vivendi Environnement), which is listed on the stock exchanges of Paris and New York.

The other company, Concordia Bus, also operates in Sweden (through Swebus) and Norway (through SBC). An affiliate of Goldman Sachs controls 51 per cent of Concordia Bus, and a further 47 per cent is owned by the Norwegian investment firm Schøyen Group.

The strike followed refusal by these two companies to negotiate with their workforce on the problem of part-timers. This refusal by the employers continued throughout the strike itself. The conflict also delayed national negotiations seeking a comprehensive incomes policy settlement, although both the country's largest labour confederation SAK and its negotiating partner, the Confederation of Finnish Industry – EK actively endeavoured to mediate in the dispute.

According to union sources, employer representatives intimidated drivers of foreign origin during the strike with threats of dismissal. The employers have denied this claim. Under the Finnish Employment Contracts Act, it is unlawful to dismiss an employee for participating in a strike called by a trade union. Many immigrants working in Finland are unaware of this.

The Finnish Labour Court ordered the Transport Workers' Union and ten of its local branches to pay a total of EUR 180,000 in fines. The Court held the original strike action by 1,300 Connex and Concordia drivers in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area to be illegal. It likewise condemned sympathetic strike action taken in other cities.

Last week this sympathetic action expanded to include the cargo section of the Port of Helsinki and shipments of chemicals that are vital to the pulp and paper industry. The wave of sympathetic action was due to spread onto the railways and airport ground services on 22 November in the event that the Transport Workers' Union had not called off the strike.

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