Finns take to streets for anti-austerity strike in Helsinki

Around 30,000 Finns rally in Helsinki to strike over Finnish government’s austerity measures

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Demonstrators gather at Central Railway Station in Helsinki

Huge crowds have gone on strike against austerity in Finland's capital Helsinki. The strike has shut down the city’s port and public transport network. Almost 400,000 people regularly use the Helsinki public transport system which includes trains, trams, metros and buses.

Finnair, Finland's national air company, said it had cancelled 15 domestic flights and delays are expected.

Meanwhile, police services were operating with minimum staff.

The Finnish government announced the cuts and austerity measures last Tuesday, after labor unions rejected government proposals regarding taxes, employee’s wages and working hours.

Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila last week announced new economic plans for Finland including cutting back on holidays and reducing housing allowances for pensioners as well as slashing employees' overtime and Sunday pay. He stated that these cuts are necessary to revive the country's economy which has been in a slump for the last three years and to increase productivity in the eurozone country.

"The Finnish state has contracted debt at a rate of almost a million euros [$1.13 million] per hour for seven years, day and night, every day of the week. We cannot continue like this," Sipila said on a national tv channel on Wednesday.

Almost 30,000 people rallied in a central square of the Finnish capital, where they protested the government's new proposal. Balloons, pop music, and “NO WAY” placards were carried by the protesters.

People demonstrate against budget measures proposed by the Finnish government, at the Central Railway Station in Helsinki.

"Last Tuesday was a black Tuesday for Finnish employees when the government announced its plan to wreck the Finnish way of negotiating," Antti Palola, head of the Finnish Confederation of Professionals STTK, said to a cheering crowd.

"1848 euros ($2,112), cut from that Sipila," said Miikka Rauhala, a demonstrator and 46-year-old museum employee.

"It's my gross monthly salary without the weekend supplements that they now want to cut. Museums are open six days a week. They also want to cut my holidays and the retirement age keeps being pushed back," he said.

"We the unions have organised this demonstration against the government's measures, including the restrictions to freedom of agreement, coercive laws and the deterioration of employment conditions," said Katariina Murto, a STK representative.

"Some cuts could be acceptable, but it's not fair that they only affect a specific group of people," said Sanna Aalto, a 24-year-old nurse from the town of Turku, in the region of Southwest Finland, referring to low-income public sector shift workers such as herself.

Finland is a top performer in the Eurozone with its high industrialised mixed economy. Finland is the only Nordic country to have joined the Eurozone.

TRTWorld and agencies