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Bargaining power for the self-employed: employment legislation must return to protecting the weakest

A few weeks ago the labour dispute involving AV freelance translators was resolved through mediation by the National Conciliator, Vuokko Piekkala. The issues left open by the mediation are of crucial importance to the Finnish jobs market of the 2020s.

The National Conciliator did not produce a proposed settlement on the pay of self-employed translators who are dependent on one or two clients. Piekkala said that would require negotiating a change in the law on behalf of self-employed workers.

European Union competition already provides the scope for bargaining for self-employed people. This is now being applied in several EU countries. And it shows that there are no obstacles to such bargaining in Finland either.

The EU line has yet to be put to the test here in Finland. The law should consequently be changed to fit EU policy.

Self-employed folk in Finland don’t at present have an ounce of bargaining clout concerning their rates of pay. Getting this bargaining power will be one of the key goals of the Union of Journalists in Finland.

This is why the UJF’s head of advocacy Petri Savolainen views the decision of the National Conciliator to be extremely significant.

“It was great that the Conciliator was prepared to take the initiative and pronounce on the matter,” he says.

“We got a clear interpretation that boosts our own stance: that a legislative change is needed explicitly stating that we can do this [negotiate on self-employed pay].”

The UJF advocates the bargaining rights of the self-employed on the domestic front. The matter is crucial in terms of working life in the 2020s. It is not just about UJF members, but has to do with the rights of – say – food runners, Uber drivers, and shipbuilding workers.

For Savolainen, this is also the ultimate task of the trade union movement.“It would be extraordinary if in the future too the very people who are in the weakest position on the jobs market, who work for the lowest pay and on the worst terms, would continue to be marginalized. Labour law must return to its roots and protect the weaker side.”

Savolainen is optimistic that bargaining powers for the self-employed will be attained.

“There are already 12 EU countries where this is the case. In Finland, we have the recent example of the public broadcaster’s freelance pay being included in a collective agreement, and now this statement by the National Conciliator. This is shaping up to be pretty hard currency for the government negotiations following the spring elections. ”