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Business

Finnish public services crippled by nation-wide strike

Finnish public transport and other services have been disrupted, as trade unions staged country-wide protests against an austerity plan. Shift workers and retail employees are among those to be hardest hit by cuts.

More than 30,000 people took to the streets in Finland's capital Helsinki to protest against a government scheme to cut workers' benefits.

Strikes in the capital and elsewhere across the nation halted rail traffic, harbors and paper mills, while office workers also opted to stay at home.

The center-right government had unilaterally announced plans to cut employees' overtime pay, as well as some holidays and sickness benefits – matters traditionally agreed in Finland by labor unions and employer associations alone.

Don't go it alone!

"The economy has not been well," opposition Social Democrat leader Antti Rinne said.

He acknowledged GDP had contracted about 3 percent over the past four years - not least due to a labor market more expensive than the EU average and that of key overseas competitors.

"But the economy will not recover by force, it requires cooperation," Rinne told a cheering crowd in Helsinki.

Union activists said it was unfair to make cuts in sectors where salaries were already quite low. The brunt of the cuts is likely to fall on shift workers, as well as employees in retail, service and public healthcare sectors.

The Confederation of Finnish Industries estimated that Friday's strike cost the economy some 100 million euros ($114 million).

"Everyone should understand that in the future we can't afford these kinds of losses," it said in a statement.

hg/el (Reuters, dpa)

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