criticises the State productivity programme
for concentrating on job cuts
JHL (15.06.2010 - Juhani Artto) In Finland the State has been
running a productivity programme since September 2003. It has been updated a few times and
the present programme reaches to the year 2015. The aim of the initial programme was to
maintain a balanced State budget in the years to come and to relieve labour shortages when
the baby-boom generation retires. At least this was what the architects of the programme
reasoned at the beginning. These arguments were also regarded as sound by trade unions.
Originally the programme was intended to genuinely improve productivity by rationalising
procurement, smart utilisation of modern IT systems and effective use of office and other
space. Soon, however, it became obvious that measures -planned and implemented in the name
of the programme- focused heavily on job cuts instead of real productivity improving
Since then the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors JHL and several other trade
union organisations have had a critical attitude towards the programme. In the last few
years this criticism has become more categorical, and now JHL, and also the largest union
confederation SAK, are calling for termination of the programme.
A clear indication of the programmes focus on job cuts is the eagerness of
decision-makers to announce figures on how many jobs have to be cut in the coming years.
The first figures represented half of the forecasted number of jobs becoming vacant due to
retirement or other reasons. Later on these figures have been moderated downwards from
earlier published projections but still the results of the programme are mainly weighed by
looking at the numbers of jobs that have been eliminated.
This policy has led to serious disregard for the tasks various State organisations are
supposed to handle and the services they should offer. For example, the Radiation and
Nuclear Safety Authority Finland simply cannot do the next round of job-trimming demanded
by the productivity programme, Jukka Laaksonen, the Director General of the organisation
The job elimination targets are arbitrary and not based on measures that would see a
reduction in personnel bringing about real productivity growth, critics are keen to point
Tellingly, The National Audit Office arrived at much the same conclusion in its study on
the productivity programmes performance during the 2007-2010 period. The study was
published in April 2010. The report reminds us that originally the programme aimed to
genuinely increase productivity by 2 per cent per annum. This, however, was forgotten once
this 2 per cent per annum was interpreted as being consistent with job elimination
targets, the study states.
A 2008 study made by PricewaterhouseCooper, commissioned by the Ministry of Finance, did
not find anything very positive to say about the programme either. Reducing personnel does
not necessarily improve productivity, the global consultant giant stressed.
In 2008 JHL declared bluntly that the weak basis justifying job elimination targets have
made it difficult for State employees to commit themselves to the productivity programme.
In 2008 over 85 per cent of respondents to JHLs questionnaire (which sought to
canvass the mood of union activists) thought that the programme had had a negative impact
on workplace atmosphere and well-being at work. Two thirds of the respondents were of the
opinion that their work units had become weaker.
Päivi Niemi-Laine, the director of JHLs research and social policy unit, hopes that
such harsh criticism will influence the thinking of decision-makers. However, she is a bit
sceptical, as widespread criticism of this whole exercise has persisted for several years
now without any major changes in the way the programme is implemented.
The ideology of job cuts and subcontracting unfortunately seems to dominate decision
making in both the private and the public sectors, she says.