Nationwide strike brings parts of Finland to a halt

AP News
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Posted: Sep 18, 2015 9:24 AM
Nationwide strike brings parts of Finland to a halt

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — 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. However, ferries, including those to Sweden and Estonia, were running normally.

Some shops were closed during protest rallies in Helsinki and major Finnish cities. Up to 30,000 protesters gathered peacefully outside the capital's main train station in pouring rain.

The strike comes after talks on a collective agreement on wages and working hours collapsed. Three unions claiming to represent some 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.

On Friday, Prime Minister Juha Sipila tweeted that he would give unions and employers more time, until Sept. 30, to come forward with proposals.

Sipila's three-party ruling coalition announced "painful decisions" after taking office in May. His government includes the Finns Party that had voiced strong opposition to the financial bailout of other European countries and advocated the ouster of Greece from the eurozone.

"I consider our economic situation a smaller problem" than the influx of migrants and asylum-seekers to Finland, Sipila was quoted as saying by Finnish broadcaster YLE.

He said some 1,000 asylum seekers were expected to arrive in Finland on Friday, after some 500 migrants, mainly Iraqis, entered via Sweden on Thursday.

Finnish officials have said the Nordic country may see up to 30,000 asylum-seekers this year, compared with just 3,651 last year.

Many fear that Finland's economic downturn could enter a fourth year after recording the lowest growth in the eurozone in the second quarter. Unemployment in Finland is expected to rise. In July, it was 8.4 percent, up from 7 percent a year earlier.

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Jari Tanner in Tallinn contributed to this report.