Finnish Posti (postal workers) strike reflects Finnish values better than anything

A Posti postal workers sign in Helsinki, Finland
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The Posti strike is still on. Finnish postal workers have been on strike since Monday, 11 November. Two weeks is a long time for a strike that has some serious effects for mail letter and package deliveries: package deliveries are late for days while delays in mail letter can be much longer. And all that in the midst of high-season, just before Christmas. 

As if the Posti workers’ strike was not enough, other workers’ unions are organizing sympathy strikes to support Posti workers. For example, the Transport Workers’ Union AKT announced a sympathy strike that would stop public transport in Helsinki region for 24 hours if the Posti strike continues without resolution. Other workers’ unions that are supporting the Posti strike with concrete actions are The Finnish Aviation Union, Service Union United, The Finnish Food Workers’ Union and Finnish Seafarers’ Union

Monday, 25 November could see major transport disruptions throughout Helsinki if Posti workers do not have their demands met. A good day to work at home? How many people can really do that?

Finland is the safest country in the world. It’s notable though that the potential action on Monday is being reported by services that warn international business travelers of delays and disruptions. Usually, Helsinki only appears on these services when Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin visits the city.

The Posti office in central Helsinki.

What is the problem? 

Finnish postal workers (PAU union) are fighting against Posti, the government-owned postal monopoly, over a new deal covering wages, terms and conditions in the sector. According to PAU union’s chairman, Heidi Nieminen:

“Posti is seeking such drastic weakening of terms and conditions that there is not really any other option but to answer with industrial action and try to get a reasonable contract on time”.

PAU union asked other unions from blue-collar confederations to support the Posti strike, and that is what threatens to disrupt daily life in Helsinki on 25 November as the strike continues for the second week in a row without an agreement.

Spending and inequality within Posti 

The Posti strike has gathered an increasing amount of sympathy among the Finnish public following media coverage of the huge wage gaps between the blue-collar postal workers and the former head of Posti, Heikki Malinen.

Malinen banked nearly one million euros in 2018. His 2018 salary included a staggering €376,841 bonus which alone is equivalent to an annual average salary of 16 postmen

Malinen resigned at the beginning of October amid rising controversy over Posti’s excessive spending on senior figures, such as himself. For example, the leaders of Posti have enjoyed expensive memberships at Sarfvik Golf Club in Kirkkonummi, west of Helsinki. The membership was proposed by Malinen in 2015 and it cost €30,000 – more than a year’s salary for the average postal worker.

In mid-August, 15 Posti board members and leadership team members travelled to California for a nine-day all-inclusive luxury trip. Posti has refused to specify the exact cost of the trip but it is estimated to be over €100,000.

Only two weeks after this trip, details of the new deal lowering employment benefits and wages were released. According to Helsingin Sanomat, PAU union has estimated that the new proposed employment contract would mean that postal workers earning around €24,000 annually are facing a 30-50% pay decreases.

Amid increasing backlash, Malinen agreed to forgo two months pay but most people felt that this was adding insult to injury considering his high salary and benefits. Following his departure from Posti, Mallinen will still gain four month’s salary.

A Posti truck on the streets of Helsinki.

The strike represents Finnish values

In a country of low income inequality, it is not a big surprise that this kind of industrial action has taken place. In Finland, rich people don’t boast with their money because that is simply against our moral values. In Finland, people get jealous very easily if someone happens to have little bit more money. 

Finnish journalists celebrate a  “National Jealousy Day” with sensational headlines once a year when the government publishes the taxable income of all its citizens. Searching for rich people’s income has been made super easy with specific “tax search engines” that are available in in every major newspaper’s website. Thank god, the tax search engine shows only the information of those who earned more than 100,000 Euros last year. 

At the same time, Finns like to show support for those who don’t have that much. Surprisingly many Finns are happy to pay high taxes in order to get nearly free education, healthcare, low-crime rates and to be just overall happy people.

For most of the 1800s and 1900s, Finland was just a tiny Northern country that nobody knew of. Of course, we had our wars and Olympics and some sports achievements. Nowadays, Finland is a relatively “rich” country, which is great, but at the same time, our moral values have not changed in the past decades. That is why most Finns have some sympathy towards these postal workers who fight for themselves in order to get adequate rights and rewards.

A Posti worker wearing their recognisable orange jackets in central Helsinki.

An end to paper mail?

Ending deliveries of paper mail be a tempting option when confronted with the Posti workers’ strike. There’s been some public discussion of this recently. Finland is a very digital country with medical, tax, and government-related documents also available online, secured by bank codes. Paper mail is still widely used, however, with accessing online documents a slow and cumbersome process, especially for the elderly, the less tech savvy, and those without strong internet connections.

Joonas Saloranta covers Northern Europe investing, macroeconomics and more at the Financial Nordic blog.

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