A crucial discussion on the role of the National Conciliator has been ongoing for some time in Finland. Now, the think tank Akava Works has published a comparative report on the machinery for conciliating collective bargaining in several countries.
Professor emeritus Niklas Bruun is the author of the report. He has compared conciliating institutions in the Nordic countries, Belgium, Estonia and Germany.
The goal of the report was not to propose or build a new conciliation model in Finland, Niklas Bruun says in the press release. However, during the study he began to think that the Finnish system needed an overhaul.
“The needs for development are connected with strengthening the conciliating institution, increasing the number of conciliators, their competence, and the possibility to follow negotiations before confrontations have a chance to get started”, Bruun says.
In most countries conciliation institutions are a stable and integral part of the labour market system, Bruun writes in the report. Changes are seldom made, with the exception of the establishment of Medlingsinstitutet, National Mediation Office, in Sweden in the year 2000.
This reform gave a more proactive role to the conciliation institution, which monitors labour market negotiations and agreements. It has a full-time staff of 11 with an additional 40 working part-time.
Question of neutrality
Akava Works is a think tank financed by Akava, the Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff.
Sture Fjäder, Akava President says in the press release that the report offers a good basis and opportunity to discuss the needs to renew the whole arbitration system. The system was created in the 1960’s and the needs are different today, Fjäder says. He also sees it as very important to improve on the resources for conciliation.
Former labour market director at the Commission for Church Employers Vuokko Piekkala has been the National Conciliator from August 2017. The National Conciliator is appointed for a four-year-period. For alternate terms the candidate comes from either the trade union side or employers’ side.
Even before taking up her post, she struck a controversial note in an interview with the public broadcaster Yle, in which she stated that the still open technology industry agreement will, under her guidance, set a pay rise ceiling for the rest of the agreements.
This naturally elicited a swift and clear response from trade union leaders. They were dubious of her neutrality and questioned whether such a pay rise ceiling is unilaterally the policy line of the employers.
Two Conciliators, perhaps?
Another wave of criticism occurred when Vuokko Piekkala said in January 2020 that she will not make proposals according to the 24 extra annual unpaid working hours that were added to the collective agreements under heavy pressure from the PM Sipilä Government in 2016. These hours were, however, one of the major stumbling blocks in that round of collective bargaining.
At the end of January this year, the Finnish Electrical Workers’ Union filed a complaint to the Chancellor of Justice due to the abrogation of duty on the part of the National Conciliator Piekkala – basically a failure to get involved. The union had by then been striking since 5 December and the Conciliator had not asked the opposing sides to sit down around a table in her office. Was this legal, the Union asked.
Jarkko Eloranta, President of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions SAK has said that it is worth considering if it would not be wise to have two National Conciliators in the future.
“Then the risks of having only one person and the rather limited resources currently available could be overcome. Once neutrality becomes an issue, this places a single person in a vulnerable and weak position. Therefore, better resources might be the solution to this problem”, Eloranta said to Yle Uutiset.
Antti Palola, President of the Finnish Confederation of Professionals STTK has also been advocating a system of two National Conciliators. He makes mention of the Swedish Medlingsinstitutet as a functioning example.
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