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Strike grinds paper mills to a halt

Employer and employee representatives remain miles apart in the wage negotiations.

Lakkovahteja Anjalan paperitehtaan portilla.
Strike monitors at the entrance to Stora Enso's paper production facility in Anjalankoski, southern Finland. Image: Jesse Mäntysalo / Yle

A strike by the paper workers' union began on Monday morning after employer and employee representatives failed to reach agreement on new terms and conditions of work.

The three-week strike by the paper union, Paperiliitto, involves 9,000 workers in the paper industry. On Sunday, representatives of forestry industry employers and the union met under the guidance of national labour conciliator Vuokko Piekkala to try and settle their differences over a new collective bargaining agreement.

However the negotiations ended in deadlock, paving the way for the strike to move forward. The parties will resume their discussions on Tuesday morning at 9am.

The strike was initially due to last two weeks, but on Sunday evening the paper workers' union announced that it would be one week longer, and would therefore end on 17 February if no agreement was reached.

Meanwhile, Metsäteollisuus, the organisation representing employers in the sector, announced a three-day lockout at 12 paper, cardboard and pulp production facilities, starting on 10 February.

Backing for "strike loans"

The duration of the strike is likely to test workers' finances. Juhani Simula, chief shop steward at forest products company Metsä Group’s Kemi factory said that workers will get financial support during the industrial action.

"It’ll be tough for young couples. Paperiliitto provided strike support of 16 euros per day and it has been raised to 50 euros. It won’t make people happy but it will help a lot," he added.

On top of that, Kemi's local union chapter 33 will likely make a decision to guarantee any loans members may have to take during the strike, Simula noted.

"We're trying things like that to ensure people can live," the shop steward said.

Strike "no good" for anyone

All was quiet at Stora Enso's paper production line in Anjalankoski, southern Finland on Monday morning, with just a few lorries going in and out the main gates. Five strike monitors stood at the entrance to the plant.

Chief shop steward Jari Punakivi said that employer and employee representatives are still far apart in the negotiations.

"The employers are sticking with their goals and we also have our own objectives. Our starting point is the removal of the "kiky " [24 hours of unpaid work annually] and restrictions on using external labour remain," Punakivi explained.

Paper machines were also at a standstill at UPM’s Raflatac label manufacturing plant in at Tesoma in Tampere. Chief shop steward Pertti Niemi speculated that Metsäteollisuus is a key player now that Labour Minister Tuula Haatainen deferred a similar chemical industry strike by two weeks.

"A strike isn't a good thing for anyone. Let's hope that we get industrial peace and can continue as before," Niemi commented.

At Pietarsaari in Ostrobothnia, western Finland, the situation was calm at UPM's Alholman sawmill. Local chief shop steward Vuokko Piippolainen described the strikes as unfortunate, adding that some employees with children had been considering alternative work during the industrial action.

"If we don't get an agreement, 20 percent of our pay will be gone," she noted.

Unpaid 24 hours a sticking point

The paper union had previously said that the 24 additional hours of annual unpaid work introduced by Juha Sipilä's competitiveness pact should be a thing of the past. For its part, employer Metsäteollisuus has rejected that proposition outright.

Chief shop steward Olli-Pekka Kaikkonen said at Stora Enso's Oulu plant that the additional working time did nothing to improve Finnish competitiveness -- at least not in the forestry sector. He noted that competitiveness in the forestry industry is determined more by other cost structures than by payroll expenses.

"If employers have said that the longer hours in the competitiveness pact yielded 10 million euros annually, then that is not significant in the larger scheme of things," Kaikkonen pointed out.

The technology industry agreed to roll back the additional hours of unpaid work following the resolution of collective bargaining talks at the end of last year. However Metsäteollisuus has said that it cannot follow suit.

Unions Tehy, Super and JHL, which represent employees in the social and health care sectors, have all called for higher salary increases than workers in the export sector. They will begin collective bargaining negotiations during the spring.

You can listen to our weekly All Points North podcast about Finland's collective bargaining system via this embedded player, Yle Areena, Spotify, iTunes or your normal pod player using the RSS feed.

Audio: Yle News

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