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Jari Lindström must answer for labour, equality and migration at the Nordic Council of Ministers
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Jari Lindström must answer for labour, equality and migration at the Nordic Council of Ministers

| Text: Berit Kvam, photo: Johannes Jansson/norden.org

“Refreshing! Interesting!,” says Finland’s Minister Justice and Employment Jari Lindström. During the Finnish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers he is the one who answers the Nordic parliamentarians on the Council on labour issues. Long-term unemployment, youth unemployment, immigration and gender equality featured among the questions which the minister had to handle. And how can we join forces and perform better in the EU?

There was also some uncertainty around whether Finland still recognises the Nordic model. This came in the wake of the Finnish government’s cuts to unemployment benefits, wage supplements to businesses and public services, while it was claimed that unemployment was rising.

“We must safeguard the Nordic model,” Jari Lindström tells the Nordic Labour Journal.

“The question is how. It is not correct that general unemployment is rising in Finland,” he says.

“Unemployment has fallen somewhat, but we don’t have the money to maintain all the public services. After the redundancies at Nokia and in the forestry sector, we need investments, growth and jobs in other areas. Reduced growth and weak revenues represent Finland’s greatest challenge right now.”

Challenged on gender equality

Gender equality is one of the themes where he is being challenged. This is not my policy area, he answers the parliamentarians. He has not seen differences in wages between men and women in the forestry industry where he used to work either. But, he underlines, gender equality is important.

“The wage gap is a big problem,” recognises Jari Lindström. “In Finland, women earn 83 percent of the equivalent wages for men. We must do something about this. Perhaps we need to look at attitudes,” he says.

There was not a lack of questions from the parliamentarians, even though many seats remained empty in the morning hours and the session ended 15 minutes early. Just as Jari Lindström said he started to feel at home in his role.

He is used to question time in the Finnish parliament, he told the Nordic Labour Journal, but he has never had to answer to the parliamentarians in the Nordic Council before.

“Isn’t it time that we in the Nordic region can go to work without worrying about falling ill or getting injured, but rather return home healthy?” comes a question from the hall.

“Today safe workplaces can be a competitive advantage,” someone else suggests.

Yes, he agrees: While productivity used to be the most important factor, health, environment and safety now top the labour market agenda. Illness and injury is too expensive for the labour market and society not to do something about it.

Social dumping

The fight against social dumping also comes up. What is being done on a Nordic level about social dumping, which is a comprehensive and cross-border problem. Anne Berner, Finland’s Minister of Transport, has to step in on this one. 

“We have had an intensive debate about cabotage in Finland and with Nordic colleagues. We can assume that the regulations for those commissioning the transport will be strengthened, and we will make sure that we play by the same rules. This is an issue where the Nordic region can influence the debate in the EU,” answers Anne Berner.

The parliamentarians have more challenges up their sleeves:

The labour market and employment represent one of the most important topics for debate in the Nordic region. We can bring our influence beyond the region too. If we acted together in the EU we have power, as Poul Nielsen points to in his report on this issue to the Council of Ministers. How can the Nordic region cooperate better in the EU? Jari Lindström has no magic answer.

“That is a good question,” he says.

“We must work with ministers from the other Nordic countries to identify areas where it pays to cooperate in order to drive the issue within the EU, where we are too small on our own.”

Recognising occupational competencies

The mismatch between access to labour and the lack of the right skills and how to handle this, also featured among the questions put to the Minister of Labour. So did border obstacles. One of the challenges mentioned was the lack of recognition for each other’s occupational competencies 

Norwegian electricians can easily work in Finland, but Finnish electricians wanting to work in Norway face demands which makes things difficult for them.

“We have been discussing all of these issues, and we must be able to solve this,” answered Jari Lindström.

“We should recognise each other’s occupational competencies. I am very open to finding solutions,” he said.

With the joint Nordic labour market model as a basis for Nordic welfare in mind, someone asked whether it would not be possible to establish some joint structures for education, access to unemployment benefits and the integration of refugees. Lindström was challenged to discuss the possibility of establishing a commission to look at these issues during the next meeting of labour ministers.

How do we join forces within the EU, then?

“This is the big problem,” he says, “how to carry on the work laid down in Poul Nielsen’s report,” he underlines for the Nordic Labour Journal.

“Together we must find the areas where we can be efficient,” says Jari Lindström.

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Jari Lindström

has been profiled in an earlier interview in the Nordic Labour Journal.

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