July 10 2012
The Helsinki and Kymenlaakso District Courts have imposed day fines on labour organisation committee members who have agreed stoppages and breached the advance notification requirement provided by the Act on Conciliation of Labour Conflicts (1962/420).
In two recent cases, the district courts addressed the advance notification requirement under Section 7 of the act, which applies to anyone intending to start a stoppage, and the breach of such notification requirement. The cases dealt with the February 2010 stevedore strikes in Helsinki and Kotka, which at the time attracted considerable national media coverage.
In both cases, the strikes were so-called 'speed-up strikes', arranged in connection with a collective agreement negotiation. The committee members of the Stevedore Worker Association of Helsinki and the Stevedore Worker Association of Kotka notified of a stoppage less than 24 hours before its start. The act, however, requires that notification for an intended stoppage or intended extension of such stoppage to be delivered to the Office of the Conciliator General and the opposing side at least two weeks before implementing any such measure. Since the association representatives´ notification had been untimely (and thus flawed), the employers in question – Container-Depot Ltd Oy, Multi-Link Terminals Ltd Oy and Containerships Ltd Oy – submitted to the police a request for an investigation concerning the failure to provide timely advance notification. At the district courts, the employers joined in with the prosecutor´s summary penal order and presented claims for compensation of the monetary damage caused by the stoppages. In the judgments, the district courts imposed 15 day fines on each defendant (ie, the relevant labour association representatives). The employers´ damage claims were extracted as separate civil cases which are still pending.
One of the legal issues addressed in the criminal trials was whether the liability to penalty for a breach of the advance notification requirement under Section 7 should, as the defendants claimed, be deemed a so-called 'dead letter of law'. The purpose of the advance notification requirement has been to ensure:
In practice, the two-week advance notification requirement has – in the course of time – been breached continuously, without the injured parties ever demanding that the breaches be investigated. It has been suggested that the unwillingness to notify breaches to the authorities could be explained by the fact that the possible criminal charges would likely hamper the labour market.
The district courts considered that if the liability to penalty for a breach of the advance notification requirement has really turned into a dead letter of law as claimed, the legislature could have removed it during the 2009 amendment of the act. As this was not done, the advance notification requirement is still valid and compelling under a threat of a penalty.
The district courts also addressed the issue of who the correct plaintiff was in connection with these criminal cases. Rejecting the defendants' allegation that the above-mentioned companies were not the correct plaintiffs, the district courts considered that the companies´ status as plaintiffs was clear considering that the civil law (damage) claims presented by these companies stemmed directly from the alleged crimes.
Both district court judgments have been appealed and the appeal processes are pending before the relevant appeal courts.
For further information on this topic please contact Jussi Ikonen or Harri Jussila at Merilampi Attorneys Ltd by telephone (+358 9 686 481), fax (+358 9 6884 8484) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com). The Merilampi Attorneys website can be accessed at www.merilampi.com.
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