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Finnish minister resigns in postal strike furore

Finnish minister resigns in postal strike furore
Finland's Minister for State Ownership Steering, Sirpa Paatero meets with press in Parliament in Helsinki, Finland November 26, 2019. Picture taken November 26, 2019. Vesa Moilanen/Lehtikuva/via REUTERS Copyright LEHTIKUVA(Reuters)
Copyright LEHTIKUVA(Reuters)
By Reuters
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By Anne Kauranen

HELSINKI (Reuters) - The minister in charge of Finland's state postal service, Sirpa Paatero, quit on Friday over her poor handling of a labour dispute that brought multiple strikes, the prime minister said.

Thousands of Posti workers went on strike for more than two weeks, with solidarity action spreading to other sectors including aviation, until the pay dispute was resolved on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Antti Rinne said he was dissatisfied with local government minister Paatero's handling and she had decided by herself to resign.

Paatero, 55, was criticised over Posti's plan to reassign 700 package handlers under a new, lower-wage contract and whether or not the government was properly informed by Posti management.

"Posti has acted against the state owner's will," Rinne told reporters, adding that the company's management would be assessed later. "I do not approve any weakening of employment terms."

Rinne's centre-left government, in power since June, has been more sympathetic to labour concerns than Finland's previous centre-right government.

A former union leader himself, Rinne said he had made clear to Posti management before and after taking office that he would not accept trampling of employee terms in state-owned companies.

Earlier on Friday, Posti board chairman Markku Pohjola said the 700 package handlers' new conditions were discussed directly with Paatero in advance and she had not objected.

Paatero first said she had not been informed when the 700 package handlers' new contract would take effect, but later apologised and said the date "slipped her attention".

The minister's resignation was not enough to calm main opposition parties who demanded the prime minister quit.

"If Rinne has lied, he has to resign," Jussi Halla-aho, chairman of the populist Finns Party, the nation's largest opposition party, wrote on Twitter.

Rinne had initially defended Paatero before parliament but on Friday said he had stuck to the facts as presented to him.

There was no immediate new comment from Paatero on Friday after her resignation was announced.

(Reporting by Tarmo Virki and Anne Kauranen; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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