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Thousands protest against the active employment model at the Senate Square in Helsinki on February 2, 2018.
On Friday noon, puzzled Asian tourists were straying at the corner of the Senate Square, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Helsinki. For their surprise, the square was occupied by thousands of poker-faced Finns holding buckets as if they were carrying their blood, sweat and tears with them, ready to redecorate the walls of the Government Palace rising across the square.
The buckets were empty, though, a symbolic gesture of the empty promises of the government, and known as a major “carrot” to draw in masses of people in sales campaigns. They were also great for drumming.
Pum! Pam! Ratatataa! “A voice for the unemployed!” the protesters chanted while banging the buckets.
From a crowd of about 8,000, according to the police estimates, some were unemployed, others denied to work on this day because of the demands of various labor organizations—but all united by their common enemy: the active employment model.
The national policy changes already in effect as of January 1, 2018, requires those granted unemployment benefits to report their efforts to their unemployment office every three months.
If efforts by job seekers are insufficient, benefits can be cut by 4.65 percent, or the equivalent of a day’s worth of assistance, over a period of 65 days. Job seekers can meet eligibility criteria by working at least 18 hours a week, earning at least 240 euros from self-employment in two months or taking part in activities enhancing their employment prospects for at least five days over a three-month period.
“I wish, the decision-makers would pass the ball to the employers instead of hammering us with sticks,” said a woman, 37, eating pea soup, offered for free in paper bowls. According to her, feeding a carrot simply works better. “I’ve been unemployed for a long time. I am a graduate of higher education in the field of culture, so it’s only natural for me to be here supporting a great cause.”
In front of the Helsinki Cathedral, rising high above the square, occupied by hundreds, a dog was howling, following the pitch of the “buuu” screams.
“We have hundreds of thousands of unemployed people in Finland,” said Timo Jalkanen, 67, who had traveled to the protest from a distance of 150 kilometers of the eastern city of Kotka.
While Jalkanen couldn’t tell—hell, even many of the decision-makers don’t seem to have a clue—what exactly should be done to tackle the unemployment in Finland, he acknowledged the need of more immigrants in working life in the future. “There are known good examples that a multicultural work environment is a definite richness to the company,” he said.
Meanwhile, the unemployment keeps decreasing: in December 2017, there were 295,500 unemployed job seekers.
That’s 62,600 less than a year before.