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Tuula Haatainen new Finnish Minister of Employment

Tuula Haatainen new Finnish Minister of Employment

| Text: Bengt Östling

Experienced Haatainen (59) joins a government which features numerous young female minister. So what experience do Finnish politicians have from real working life? The question arose with Finland’s sudden change of government in mid-December.

The world’s youngest Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, started her career at a supermarket checkout for instance.

Tuula Haatainen (Social Democrats) is the new Minister of Employment and is considered to be a jack-of-all-trades in Finnish politics. She is a trained nurse and has practised in her home region of Kuopio in Åland. Her ambitions stretch all the way to the post as President, however.

Musical chairs

Haatainen left her post as deputy speaker in parliament to join the government, and to open up her post to be filled by Antti Rinne, who stepped down as Prime Minister in early December.

Haatainen took over from Timo Harakka at the Ministry of Employment. Harakka moved to the post as Minister of Transport and Communications – a position held by the new Prime Minister Sanna Marin for the past six months.

The sudden government crisis was a Social Democrat crisis at first. It entered on the labour market, wages and collective agreements. The crisis came to a head because the coalition partner the Centre Party lost trust in the Prime Minister over how he had handled a labour dispute the Finnish postal service, Posti.

The postal workers’ trade union, The Finnish Post and Logistics Union PAU, accused Posti of lowering wages for staff who also were already on low wages. Posti is in a crisis because many private actors have entered a shrinking market.

2,300 newspaper distributors have previously been moved to Posti’s daughter company where they were given a “cheaper” collective agreement. Now Posti wanted to transfer 700 sorters to the same daughter company, with lowered wages.

Government crisis because of state ownership policy

Posti even threatened to cut wages for the rest of the postal staff. Negotiations for a new collective agreement stalled, resulting in a postal strike. The strong transport sector organised several sympathy strikes. 

According to state-owned Posti, competitors can carry out similar work within cheaper and more flexible collective agreements. Posti’s board also wanted this. 

The question was whether the Social Democrat-led government really had agreed to Posti's decisions. Minister for State Ownership Steering Sirpa Paatero had to step down, but that was not enough. The Centre Party announced that they no longer had confidence in Prime Minister Antti Rinne. 

The government saved, with the same parties and programme

Rinne stepped down to save the government and the coalition programme that had been negotiated in the spring and early summer.

The Finnish government re-emerged with five parties, under Social Democrat leadership, The other parties are The Centre Party, The Greens, The Left Alliance and The Swedish People’s Party.

Finnish government

Parts of the new Finnish government, with Sanna Marin in the middle. Tuula Haatainen is number two from the left.

At 34, Sanna Marin (SDP), became the world’s youngest prime minister. Sirpa Paatero returned as a government minister after only a few weeks’ break – now only as Minister of Local Government. Minister for European Affairs Tytti Tuppurainen (SDP) has been given responsibility for state ownership steering. 

While the Social Democrats have made several ministerial changes, the Centre party only made one. Party Leader Katri Kulmuni swaps jobs with Mika Lintilä. She becomes Minister of Finance and he is the new Minister of Economic Affairs at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.

Haatainen’s down-to-earth approach became her trademark

Employment and working life issues are partly new for Tuula Haatainen. She has been presented as an expert on social politics who has made her down-to-earth approach her trademark.

Haatainen has twice tried to be elected President. In 2011 she lost the nomination to be the Social Democrats’ candidate, but in the latest presidential election in 2018, Tuula Haatainen was the Social Democrats’ candidate for President. There is no doubting Haatainen’s skills. She is considered to be to the point and trustworthy.

Security policy, weapons systems and defence were not her strength, however. She would rather talk about a feminist foreign policy, with Sweden as a model. Journalists have called her dull. She gets along with everyone and has no scandals in her past. 

“She would be better as Prime Minister, but does not fit in the presidential election,” said the Social Democrats’ former party secretary Mikael Jungner in the Savon Sanomat newspaper.

Voters agreed. Haatainen only got 3.3 % of the votes. That was the Social Democrats’ worst ever result in a presidential election. The task was also considered to be impossible. The opposing candidate was the former leader of The National Coalition Party Sauli Niinistö, who had been a popular President. He easily won a second term.

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Facts about Tuula Haatainen

Born in Tuusniemi, Eastern Finland 1960. Married with two adult children.

Education: graduated as a nurse in 1981 from Kuopio and has a master degree in politics from the University of Helsinki.  

Likes to read, paint, jog and run marathons. Calls herself a lover of languages. Has written a political memoir, Arjen kuningattaret – “The everyday queens”. It details “everyday stories from the corridors of power”, from the minister’s offices, the government chambers and the kitchen table.

Representing Helsinki in parliament between 1996 and 2007 and again from 2015.

Government minister in the Finnish government several times. Minister of Education between 2003 and 2005, and Minister of Social Affairs and Health between 2005 and 2007 under three prime ministers from the Centre Party. Appointed Minister for Employment in Sanna Marin’s government in December 2019. 

Long-serving municipal politician and deputy mayor of Helsinki, before becoming head of the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities. 

Some business experience from various boards of major Finnish companies.



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