Finland is facing the prospects of widening labor strikes as the work stoppage in the ports is set to begin its third week on Wednesday. Dockworkers and port employees walked off their jobs on February 15 demanding wage increases that kept pace with inflation as well as work rule changes.
Reports indicate that AKT, Finland’s Transport Workers’ Union, has rejected two offers from the Finnish Port Operators’ Association citing insufficient pay raises. Finnish media suggests that the union is seeking raises commensurate with those achieved in Germany during the 2022 strikes. German port workers received approximately 8.5 percent raises over two years.
“We spent the whole day looking for a solution, but unfortunately we couldn’t find one,” Anu Sajavaara, National Conciliator who is overseeing the negotiations told the Helsinki Times on Sunday. “We’ll have to wait and mull over the solution for a while longer, but we’re close. There was some progress.”
The strike has brought to a halt to most of Finland’s import and export business. According to the government, approximately 90 percent of the country’s trade goes by sea. The other main trade route historically was by train across the eastern border to Russia, but that has largely been suspended for a year since the invasion of Ukraine.
Finland’s 10 main seaports are all included in the current strike. Among the industries that are feeling the impact is the pulp, paper, and board sectors, which rely on shipping. Reports are estimating that the strike could cost more than $1 billion each month.
With the port talks having broken off on Sunday, the union is now saying it will extend the strike to other key sectors. Public pressure has already been building for a settlement that is likely to grow based on the next wave of strikes.
The transport union scheduled a strike for most city bus drivers due to start on Wednesday, March 1. It is estimated that three-quarters of Finland’s busses would stop running while in the region around the capital of Helsinki reports said it could be as high as 90 percent of the buses. While talks were going on a union spokesperson indicated the strike was “fairly likely” at this point.
Segments of the trucking industry have also been on strike with another action scheduled for March 1. The postal and logistics union said it would support the truckers by stopping the handling of cargo at Posti’s terminals. The Finish Food Workers’ Union also announced that it would hold a two-day strike on March 6 and 7 banning the loading and unloading in support of the truckers.
Late on Tuesday, February 28, the transport union however announced what it called a first positive step with an agreement for parts of the trucking industry. Drivers, including tankers, the oil product industry, and terminal operators agreed on terms that the union said would end the threat of a strike. They however said that talks for the bus drivers had failed and that the strike would proceed.
No timetable has been announced to resume the talks for the ports. The bus strike is scheduled to run till March 10 while the union notes that other contract segments are also scheduled to begin negotiations in March.