Trade Union News from Finland

| Start | Archive | Newsletter | Links | Publisher | About | Copyright


valikko


JUHANI ARTTO
HOMEPAGE 2013

HAKU / SEARCH

GALLERIA / GALLERY

TRADE UNION NEWS
FROM FINLAND 1997-2013

AY-UUTISET
MAAILMALTA 1999-2013

KOHTI KUMPPANUUTTA
- KUINKA SUOMI
OPPI TEKEMÄÄN
KEHITYSYHTEISTYÖTÄ
1965-2005

KAIKKI PELISSÄ -
SÄHKÖISET LISÄSIVUT

EVERYTHING AT STAKE - SAFEGUARDING INTERESTS IN A WORLD WITHOUT FRONTIERS

MEDIALINNAKKEET

BOLIVIA

HAITI

MUUT JUTUT
OTHER STORIES

INTERNET -
TIEDONHAUN OPAS 2.0

SUITSAIT

MUILLA SAITEILLA
ON OTHER SITES

LINKIT / LINKS

JULKAISIJA / PUBLISHER

© JUHANI ARTTO
1997-2013

juttupohja_5
JHL has played an active role in largescale local authority reform

JHL (26.05.2010 - Juhani Artto) In Finland, reform of the local authority system has been underway since 2005. And, all through this process, JHL, the largest union in the municipal sector and throughout Finland has actively and successfully defended the rights of all municipal employees. JHL represents some 220,000 employees who mainly work in the public sector.

Nationwide, and to date the most visible result of the reform has been a significant reduction in the number of municipalities. In 2005, there were 432, and now, after numerous amalgamations, municipalities number only 342. And in the next few years more amalgamations will take place. Simultaneously, restructuring of joint authorities has been, and is, under work.

In this process, the most important achievement of JHL and other trade unions has been the understanding -regulation in effect- that municipal employees are granted five years notice before dismissal due to these municipality amalgamations. However, this regulation does not affect personnel who find themselves redundant in the event of outsourcing or liquidating certain municipal services.

Many economically weak municipalities

Two major factors have made this reform necessary. The economic basis of many municipalities is so weak that they are not able to properly offer those services they are mandated to provide, by legislation. Local authorities are responsible for a large provision of public health care, social welfare and education. Approximately one fifth of the labour force in Finland works for local authority organisations.

Another reason for the laborious reform process has been the small size of dozens of municipalities. In 2007 only one municipality out of four had over 10,000 inhabitants. In order for any rational planning and organisation many services require a large population base. And, this has been recognised in the legislation. It demands that the minimum number of inhabitants eligible for basic public health care and social services -or in close proximity- is 20,000 citizens. The corresponding figure for basic vocational education is 50,000.

Municipalities in Finland, generally speaking, have a fairly broad autonomy. And in this respect they  are expected to voluntarily implement the necessary structural changes. In 2008-2013 the government sought to promote these voluntary processes through monetary incentives. Within municipalities this "carrot" was the impetus for all those supporting
amalgamation.

It is still unclear what will happen after 2013 for those municipalities that do not have a solid economic and large enough population base to meet the challenges of being a public service provider.

Large backing for reform at national level

Among national decision-makers there has been a broad consensus on the need and outlines for this reform. Still, at a local level, many obstacles have slowed down and in many cases even hindered advancement. It is understandable that in many small municipalities local politicians have opposed initiatives to become part of a much larger municipality, fearing a loss of power as a result.

Also, fears of a weakening of identity and democracy have reduced the willingness for municipalities to amalgamate with one or several others.

In addition, one has to take into account that proposed amalgamations have not in all cases clearly appeared beneficial to all parties. A case in point is an amalgamation between a rich but small municipality with an economically weaker but much more populated municipality. Such a merger appears a bad alternative for the people living in the rich but small municipality. Thus, for them there would be obvious reasons to oppose any amalgamation initiatives.

One more argument against efforts to create larger municipalities by amalgamations is this. Research into past municipality mergers in Finland does not unambiguously conclude that the desired goals have been reached.

Listing these obstacles gives a hint to how complicated the reform process has been and will be. The process does not only mean the desire for reasonable changes but includes also many other factors.

Strong municipalities important for municipal employees

For municipal employees and their unions the rationale of reform has been clear. For them it is essential that their employer organisations are economically strong and able to offer the services they are expected to offer. This is good for them also as inhabitants of their own municipalities.

Reform has been more complex for municipal employees whose former tasks have been abolished because of the amalgamation. They have not lost their employment relation but they have had to adjust to the new tasks their employers have offered to them. This has not in all cases run smoothly -largely through the lack of proper retraining- or for other reasons.

Nowadays, the local authorities are obliged by law to consult with the employee representatives on changes that have an impact on employees work and working conditions. Through the whole reform process JHL has emphasised the importance of these consultations. As a result no "horror stories" on the treatment of employees has occurred, says Jorma Peussa who is one the JHL head office specialists closely involved in the municipal sector reform.

"Cooperation both between employers and employees and between various unions in the municipal sectors have really been on trial", Peussa says. In the amalgamated municipalities working conditions and work place cultures have varied. Now they have to be harmonised and put together. It is a demanding and long-lasting challenge, Peussa concedes.

No big changes yet in the service structures

Late last year the Ministry of Finance made a thorough assessment on how the reform project has advanced. The major conclusions were that the amalgamation process has advanced well but the improvements in the service structure still are modest.

For JHL and the other municipal sector unions it means that much work is left to be done in defending municipal employees' rights during this reform process.