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The future of the service sectors must be secured

The year 2016 was a hopeful one for commerce. This was the first time since 2012 that growth was achieved. The low inflation rates and an increase in the number of people employed have supported the development of the economy. Improved employment and the income tax concessions implemented by the government improved purchasing power. We forecast a slight increase in the next couple of years as well.

Car sales developed especially favourably in 2016, with an increase of almost 9 per cent in sales. The turnover of wholesale trade remained at the previous year’s level, but the sales volume increased by 1 per cent. Retail trade, on the other hand, grew by slightly under 1 per cent, and its largest sector, daily consumer goods trade, grew by 1.0 per cent. An increase of one per cent in sales can be considered as a good result as the overall price level of consumer goods decreased by 0.7 per cent last year.

The number of sales assistants in the member companies of the Finnish Commerce Federation increased by more than 4 per cent. This was also the first increase since 2012. With nearly 300,000 jobs to offer, the commerce sector continues to be the biggest employer in the Finnish economy.

The bankruptcy statistics of commerce also show a more favourable development. According to Statistics Finland, the number of bankruptcies in the commerce sectors has clearly been decreasing, by almost 7 per cent year-on-year. The reduction was the largest in the wholesale trade, at almost one quarter.

Significant steps in lobbying

The Finnish Commerce Federation has a total of 2,300 corporate members that represent all sectors of commerce: the retail trade, wholesale trade, technical trade, car trade and pharmacies. In addition to corporate members, we have 24 member associations. In all, our lobbying efforts cover approximately 7,000 companies.

The year 2016 was also an important year of lobbying for the Finnish Commerce Federation. As our strategic goals of lobbying, we have specified a tax policy which supports purchasing power, promotion of deregulation and better regulation and the renewal of the labour market. Our vision is to create the best possible operating conditions for the commerce by means of strong and anticipatory lobbying.

The Finnish Commerce Federation has deepened its cooperation with the Finnish Grocery Trade Association and specialty goods trade associations. The cooperation has resulted in a significant improvement in lobbying, both in terms of quantity and quality. We have met with politicians and officials even more often than before.

Towards better regulation

The most important achievement of our lobbying in 2016 was the deregulation of opening hours of commercial companies, which had been our goal for several years already. Consumers have welcomed this change very positively. Deregulated opening hours have clearly increased the numbers of employees and working hours.

The Finnish Commerce Federation welcomes active deregulation implemented by the Finnish government. Regulation has, on the other hand, increased in the EU. Excess regulation still slows down the development of commerce in Finland. It is, therefore, our objective to promote responsible, free trade, the development of free markets and the dissolution of monopolies.

The passing of the Alcohol Act and implementing it as quickly as possible is an important goal for us in 2017. In the long run, the goal must be the complete rescission of the monopoly in the retail trade of alcohol. We are also satisfied with the dialogue about opening up the pharmacy business for competition. A stepwise progress towards unregulated competition is a wise process in terms of both the alcohol trade and the pharmacy sector.

The reform of the Land Use and Building Act has also progressed according to our wishes. The establishment of new stores and the expansion of existing ones will become easier already in 2017, thanks to the deregulation of zoning. This means added investments in the commercial sector and more jobs in the construction sector.

A reforming labour market

The labour market is undergoing a reform which, at best, leads to the improvement of competitive strength, growth opportunities and possibilities to create more jobs in the commercial sector. The Finnish Commerce Federation is satisfied with the solution reached with the Service Unions United PAM in accordance with the Finnish Competitiveness Pact.

The new collective labour agreement for the commercial sector entered into force in February 2017. This marked one of the biggest reforms in the commercial sector for decades. The extension of working hours in accordance with the Competitiveness Pact will be implemented by introducing a completely new annual leave system. Employees now accrue days off by working. This is an encouraging systems as employees get more days off the more they have worked. This is a clear improvement for part-time employees in particular.

The Finnish Commerce Federation encourages the utilisation of opportunities for local agreements allowed by the new collective labour agreement. At the same time, we emphasise the importance of industrial peace during the next union-by-union negotiation round.

Towards union-specific agreements

The Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) has made a decision to no longer negotiate about collective labour agreements. The Federation of Finnish Commerce will negotiate its own agreements in the future, just as all the other sector-specific unions. The next challenge is the creation of a union-specific pay model; its functionality will be tested during the union-by-union negotiation round next autumn.

The change has marked the entire field of lobbying. The requirements for cooperation between federations have increased and, at the same time, the federations will have to act even more decisively to protect the interests of their own field. Union-specific agreements should improve the sector-specific competitive strength in particular.

Future-oriented programme for the service sectors

The structure of the Finnish economy is undergoing a major change. As a result, the importance of commerce and services in the economy continues to increase. Commerce is the largest employer in the private sector in Finland measured by several factors. It generates 10 per cent of the gross national products and provides employment for 11 per cent of the employed. The commercial sector and other service sectors are now requesting determinately that the decision-makers recognise this fact.

Various programmes supporting the competitive strength of the industry have been prepared in Finland for decades, and the contents of such programmes has been reflected in the economic policy. No similar programmes have been implemented for the service sectors.

Finland now needs a future programme for the service sectors, which will help to create new growth, strengthen the economy, promote the vitality of the domestic market and maintain well-being. The Finnish Commerce Federation calls upon interested parties to participate in the construction of the contents of the future programme. Our objective is to have these goals reflected already in the next government programme in 2019.

Biggest employer of young people

Youth unemployment is currently at a shamefully high level in Finland, as in many other EU countries. The commerce sector is by far the biggest employer of young people in Finland. We are doing everything in our power to prevent the marginalisation of young people, to reduce youth unemployment and to find new ways which allow young people to enter the labour market. The training employment model proposed by the Finnish Commerce Federation is an example of such an approach.

In addition to providing quick access to the labour market, the Federation of Finnish Commerce promotes the education and training in the commercial sector on all levels and seeks to improve the attraction of the commercial sector as an employer.

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