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More pressure on UPM: Transport union backs striking paper workers

UPM, one of the world's largest papermakers, is seeking to break with decades of tradition by negotiating separate contracts for employees of five different business groups.

A power plant at the UPM Kaukas mill site in Lappeenranta, eastern Finland (file photo). Image: Kari Saastamoinen / Yle

The Finnish Transport Workers' Union (AKT) has announced a blockade to support striking paper workers at forest products giant UPM's mills.

The AKT said on Saturday that it will implement a blockade at Finnish ports beginning at 6 am on Monday. During the industrial action, AKT-affiliated stevedores will refuse to handle any UPM paper, pulp or board products. The AKT staged a port shutdown in late December to support workers at another forest industry company, Keitele Group.

Later on Saturday, the company said that the embargo would not improve the situation.

“The AKT's measures do not promote the functioning of the labour market. The AKT is not even a party to the negotiations we are trying to start with the Paperworkers’ Union," Jyrki Hollmén, UPM's Vice President, Labour Markets, said in a statement.

UPM seeks separate contracts

The AKT, with 45,000 members, and the Paperworkers’ Union, with some 34,000, are both part of the powerful SAK labour confederation.

On Thursday the Paperworkers’ Union said it would extend its strike until at least mid-February if no deal is reached.

UPM workers walked off the job on New Year’s Day after their collective agreement expired at the end of 2021.

UPM, one of the world's largest papermakers, is seeking to break with decades of tradition by negotiating separate contracts for employees of five different business groups. The union insists it must stick to the long-held practice of one collective agreement for the entire group.

Heat and water staff ordered back to work

On Friday, Helsinki District Court ordered workers responsible for heat production and water treatment at UPM mills to return to work. Many factories in Finland provide district heating and water treatment for local communities alongside their core operations. Meanwhile UPM's energy unit is Finland's second-biggest electricity producer.

The court said that cutting off such services would "endanger the critical functioning of society" and threatened the union with a two-million-euro fine.

The back-to-work order covers facilities run by UPM and its subsidiaries in half a dozen locations from Rauma and Pietarsaari on the west coast to Lappeenranta, near the Russian border.

17.09: Updated with UPM comment.