Mediation in labour disputes

The labour dispute conciliation system, the conciliators’ powers and the conciliation procedures are laid down in the Act on Mediation in Labour Disputes.

Under the act, the social partners must notify the National Conciliator’s Office and the other party to the dispute of the work stoppage or its extension in writing at least 14 days in advance. The notification must state the reasons for and start date and scope of the planned work stoppage or its extension. Postponing the start of the industrial action or restricting its scope requires the consent of the other party.

The notification obligation only applies to work stoppages (strikes and lockouts) and it does not apply to other forms of industrial action, such as boycotts or overtime bans.

The purpose of the notification obligation is to ensure that the conciliator has enough time to settle the labour dispute and to prevent the industrial action. It is also important that the parties affected by any work stoppage are aware of the threat.

Violations of the notification obligation are rare. A fine can be imposed for the violation of the obligation.

The Act on Mediation in Labour Disputes does not apply to industrial action taking place when a collective agreement and the obligation to ensure industrial peace laid down in the agreement are in effect. Thus, it is not necessary to give advance notification of such industrial action and such action is not covered by the system of labour dispute conciliation. Such labour disputes fall under the jurisdiction of the Labour Court.

Likewise, political and sympathy strikes do not come within the scope of the advance notification and conciliation obligation laid down in the Act on Mediation in Labour Disputes. However, the obligation to provide advance notification laid down in the agreements between central labour market organisations does apply to them.

Conciliator’s powers

After receiving an advance notification under the Act on Mediation in Labour Disputes, the National Conciliator or a conciliator nominated by the National Conciliator must take measures to settle the labour dispute without delay. The conciliator may also take other action in labour disputes that may endanger industrial peace.

The parties to the dispute may also jointly request voluntary conciliation in a situation where outside help is needed. However, the conciliators do not consider legal disputes as these come under the jurisdiction of the Labour Court.

Finland has a system of compulsory conciliation but the parties to a dispute are not obliged settle it through conciliation. This means that the parties must take part in the conciliation process and provide the conciliator with the necessary information for settling the dispute. However, the parties themselves decide whether or not to accept the proposal put forward by the conciliator. A conciliator does not have the powers to force the parties to settle a labour dispute even if the ensuing industrial action would seriously threaten the functioning of society at large.

The conciliator acts as the chair and determines the course of the process. The main task of the conciliator is to reach a settlement between the parties on the basis of their own proposals. If these attempts fail the conciliator may submit a proposal, which the parties can accept or reject. The conciliator may also suspend the conciliation process or propose that a conciliation board should be established.

There are no general rules or procedures concerning the conciliation process or its practical implementation. In practice, impartiality, confidentiality and familiarity with labour market practices are the factors that help the conciliator to achieve results.

Postponing the start of a work stoppage

In certain situations, the start of a work stoppage or its extension may be postponed by a maximum of 14 days so that there would be more time for the conciliation process. The conciliator or the conciliator board may request the Ministry of Employment and the Economy to postpone the start of the industrial action if the work stoppage resulting from the dispute or its extension would, on account of its scope or nature, affect essential functions of society or substantially harm the public interest. The purpose of the postponement is to give enough time to reach a settlement. In a dispute concerning the employment terms of public servants, the ministry may postpone the work stoppage for an additional seven days.