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Hundreds of thousands of workers in Finland went on strike to protest proposed labor law reforms, which they say would negatively affect low-wage earners and tilt the balance of power toward employers in salary negotiations, Euronews reported Thursday.
Strikes took place in a number of cities Wednesday and are expected to continue and grow through Friday, with more protests planned for next week.
The demonstrations, which coincide with campaigning for Finland’s presidential election, drew 10,000 workers to a rally in Helsinki. Unions estimate up to 300,000 workers could participate in the strikes, affecting various sectors including transportation, energy, retail, tourism, and manufacturing.
At the heart of the dispute are proposed cuts to social welfare provisions and the rejigging of collective bargaining rules. Workers said these changes would lead to significant income losses for low-wage workers and weaken workers’ bargaining power, potentially exacerbating income disparities in the country of about 5.5 million people.
The government has defended the reforms, emphasizing the need to enhance Finland’s economic competitiveness. Minister for Employment Arto Satonen said the reforms are essential to increase employment and reduce public spending, citing concerns about debt raised by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
Even so, unions have criticized the government for failing to consider alternative solutions that were already proposed.
Some government officials have also labeled the strikes as politically motivated, further exacerbating tensions between the two sides: Ministers have labeled the striking unions “mafia,” while others have accused workers of getting paid “bribes” to attend the protests.
Meanwhile, a petition to ban so-called political strikes has garnered support from some politicians, raising concerns about the erosion of established social norms in the country and international labor standards.
Despite the government’s position on the strikes, union leaders say they have broad support among the population who see the strikes as a legitimate challenge to the ruling coalition’s plans to alter workers’ rights.