One of the biggest strikes in Finland's history closed down ports, canceled or delayed flights and disrupted other transportation Friday, amid protests against the government's latest proposed austerity measures. With the Nordic country in a recession for the past three years and on track for a fourth, the ruling center-right coalition has tried to impose cutbacks that include limiting overtime and benefits.
At Helsinki's Central Railway Station, demonstrators gathered while trains and city buses were halted, the BBC reported.
Earlier in September, the government unveiled an austerity package that included turning two religious holidays into working days, decreasing compensation for working Sundays, cutting pay for sick leave by 20 percent and lowering public employees' vacation time to 30 days a year, Bloomberg reported.
But talks with unions for a collective agreement over hours and wages collapsed. Finland's unions represent some 2.2 million people -- nearly half of the country's population, according to the Associated Press.
National airline Finnair canceled 16 domestic flights, but ferries to Sweden and Estonia continued operations as usual, the AP reported.
Finland recorded the eurozone's lowest growth in the second quarter of this year, as its key industries face declines. “I know that now is the last chance to get Finland back into shape," Prime Minister Juha Sipila said Wednesday in an address. "Finland is in an exceptionally serious situation."
— thisisFINLAND (@thisisFINLAND) September 18, 2015
Unemployment in Finland was at 7 percent last year and 8.4 percent in July. It is expected to rise to 10.3 percent by 2017, the Financial Times reported.
“The lack of a growth outlook and one of the weakest sentiments in the EU are a toxic mix for investments and employment in Finland,” Pasi Sorjonen, an economist at the Nordea Group, a financial services company in the Nordic and Baltic regions, told the Financial Times.
The last time Finland had a major labor protest was in 1992. Some 300,000 people joined in. This year, thousands were expected to demonstrate in the capital, the BBC reported, citing Agence France-Presse.
Sipila, the prime minister, said Friday that unions would have until Sept. 30 to propose alternatives to the government's labor package.