EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life
Finnair strike injunction criticised by unions and legal experts
After a two-day strike, technicians and clerical officers employed by Finnair were forced back to work when the Helsinki District Court granted an injunction to the airline ending the industrial action. Legal experts joined the trade unions in condemning the strike injunction as illegal. A deal to settle the dispute, caused by Finnair’s plan to outsource technical services, was subsequently agreed following intervention by the national labour conciliator.
Strike against outsourcing
Industrial action was started at Finnair on Tuesday 5 June 2012 by the national airline carrier’s maintenance workers and clerical officers belonging to the trade union Pro, the largest member union of the Finnish Confederation of Salaried Employees (STTK), and aviation employees belonging to the Finnish Aviation Union (IAU), which is affiliated to the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK).
The dispute was sparked by plans to shut down or scale back certain activities by Finnair’s technical staff in a move expected to lead to the loss of 280 jobs. About 600 workers from IAU and some 400 officers from Pro took part in the week-long strike.
After some disruption to flight schedules and a number of flight cancellations during the first two days of the strike, Finnair took the unions to court. The Helsinki District Court granted an injunction to the company to end the action and the strikers were forced to go back to work on Thursday 7 June under the threat of a fine of €2.8 million ordered by the judge.
Many influential Finnish jurists and professors of law have condemned the strike injunction as illegal, arguing that the court had no jurisdiction to intervene in the employees’ fundamental right to take industrial action. For instance, as reported in the international edition of Helsingin Sanomat, Antti Jokela, Professor of Procedural Law at the University of Turku, said:
The court is not allowed to interfere with the overall right to strike, which is a fundamental right. These kinds of matters are for the Labour Court. There are separate rules in labour legislation on procedures for banning unlawful strikes and for the payment of possible damages.
Professor Jokela also emphasised that the court should have heard arguments from the trade unions before imposing the order.
Trade unions involved in the industrial action were astounded by the court’s decision. The President of Pro, Antti Rinne, said that the court decision was legally unjust and that the union would consider an appeal. Both SAK and STTK were reported to be very disappointed by the suspension of the strike.
Deal brokered by national labour conciliator
After a dramatic intervention by the National Labour Conciliator, Esa Lonka, negotiations continued between representatives of the trade unions and Finnair. The dispute was resolved on Thursday 14 June when Finnair and the trade unions reached agreement on support packages for technical and salaried staffs facing redundancy. According to Finnair, the deal consists of a package involving severance pay, additional compensation and support from Finnair’s Career Gate service. The agreement on redundancy support ended the dispute between the unions and the company. It also brought to an end a complex legal dispute over the court’s decision.
Finnair has faced challenging economic conditions for some time. During the past decade, the company has introduced a number of cost-saving and restructuring programmes. Unions were particularly angry about the current outsourcing plan because last spring a number of senior Finnair executives were given huge loyalty bonuses at the same time as Finnair reached agreements with staff on cost-saving measures, including a wage freeze. Because of the incident, the minister responsible for the government’s ownership steering, Heidi Hautala, announced that the six members of the Finnair board who had been responsible for sanctioning the bonuses would be fired.
Pertti Jokivuori, University of Jyväskylä