Finland hit by strikes over austerity measures

Thousands take to the streets of Nordic nation in protest against cutbacks aimed at rescuing economy from downturn.

    A one-day strike in Finland halted public transportation and shut down ports nationwide on Friday as workers protested against government cutbacks aimed at trying to drag the Nordic country out of a three-year economic downturn.

    Trains and city buses were not running. Finnair, the national carrier, cancelled about two dozen domestic flights and there were delays at airports, such as in Helsinki, where security staff briefly walked off.

    The strike came after talks on a collective agreement on wages and working hours collapsed.

    Three unions claiming to represent up to 2.2 million people - nearly half of Finland's population of 5.5 million - are protesting government cutbacks, including limits to holiday benefits and overtime pay.

    Juha Sipila's government says the measures are necessary to improve Finland's competitiveness, lift exports and investments, and create new jobs.

    "The global economy has been growing for the last few years, but we have not managed to board that train," Sipila said in a speech this week.

    After taking office in May, the Finnish prime minister attempted to get the unions and employers' organisations to agree on cuts as part of a so-called social contract, but the talks failed.

    On Friday, he gave employers and unions until September 30 to agree on cuts before going to parliament.

    Sipila heads a government comprising his Centre Party, the conservative National Coalition Party, and the populist Finns Party.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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