Finnish strikes over labour reform empty Helsinki

Protester Liisa Huhtala holds a placard showing Finland's Premier Petteri Orpo as a worm and the lettering 'The world's largest invertebrate' (Vesa Moilanen)
Protester Liisa Huhtala holds a placard showing Finland's Premier Petteri Orpo as a worm and the lettering 'The world's largest invertebrate' (Vesa Moilanen)

Public transport ground to a halt across much of Finland on Friday as part of mass strikes over the government's proposed labour reforms, leaving Helsinki's normally-bustling city centre unusually quiet.

About 300,000 people in a wide swathe of sectors were estimated to be taking part in the strike action, which began on Wednesday when day care workers walked off the job.

Conservative Prime Minister Petteri Orpo has proposed changes to the country's labour market model which critics say would weaken workers' rights, including social benefit cuts and job security, and reduce unions' collective bargaining powers.

Orpo, whose government has argued the country needs an "export-driven labour market model" to boost competitiveness, on Thursday called the mass strikes "excessive and disproportionate".

Unions shut down most air traffic in Finland on Thursday and Friday, forcing national carrier Finnair to cancel 550 flights, affecting 60,000 passengers.

Trains across the country and metros, trams and local trains in the capital were also cancelled on Friday, as well as most buses.

Helsinki resident Marko Tuuminen said he wasn't too bothered by the strike, despite the impact it was also having on the energy sector, schools, healthcare, shops, industry, restaurants, hotels, postal workers and other services.

"They're on strike for good reason. The benefits that have been achieved have to be retained, there is no need to weaken them groundlessly," Tuuminen told daily Ilta-Sanomat on Friday morning.

"The shop close to me has been open. Now I get to exercise walking to work," he said.

- Industry calls new strike -

Some schools in the capital region organised remote lessons for students because of Friday's transport strike, while a taxi company in the city of Tampere said pre-orders had risen eight-fold for Friday morning, public broadcaster Yle reported.

The Industrial Union on Friday announced another strike for February 14-16, which would affect 60,000 workers and bring a large part of Finnish industry to a halt if it goes ahead.

"The Industrial Union will continue to tighten the screw through strikes. We do not accept the government demolishing the structures built to protect workers," it said in a statement.

"The government's measures have nothing to do with boosting employment. This is purely an ideology that enterprises have dictated to the government parties."

Strikes are relatively uncommon in Finland, especially ones involving white-collar workers.

The Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) told AFP the direct and indirect effects of this week's strikes would result in a loss of around 360 million euros in gross domestic product.

The strike action has primarily been called by the Finnish Confederation of Professionals (STTK), the Public and Welfare Sectors Union (JHL), the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), and the Service Union United (PAM).