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Union leader says workers want minimum 2 percent pay rise

An agreement reached last week between forestry company Stora Enso and the Paperworkers' Union could set a precedent for other sectors.

STTK:n puheenjohtaja Antti Palola.
Antti Palola, chair of The Finnish Confederation of Salaried Employees STTK. Image: Markku Ulander / Lehtikuva

Salary increases agreed last week between forestry company Stora Enso and staff representatives may determine the level of pay rises in other sectors across the Finnish labour market.

Antti Palola, chair of The Finnish Confederation of Salaried Employees STTK, told Yle that the agreement sets a benchmark for negotiators in other sectors to strive towards.

Under the deal, the forestry firm's employees will receive a 1.9 percent pay increase in the first two years and 0.9 percent in the third year. The collective agreement is valid for two years and four months, so wages will increase by two percent annually.

The pay rises agreed between Stora Enso and the Paperworkers' Union are higher than those agreed with the wider industry in the previous round of negotiations two years ago.

In a surprise move announced last autumn, the Finnish Forest Industries Federation (FFIF) said it would abandon collective bargaining in the Finnish labour market and instead allow companies in the sector to agree directly with their workforces on salaries, shifts and working conditions.

Last week's agreement therefore marks the first wage negotiation in the forestry sector since the end of collective bargaining and the move towards a company-specific model.

According to Palola, when a major company in a major export industry enters into such an agreement on pay, it grabs a lot of attention.

"A stake has been put into the ground, and everyone is paying attention," the union chief said. "This is certainly what we will be aiming for at other negotiating tables."

Traditionally in Finland, the first agreement on wages and working conditions has set the tone for the talks that follow. Palola added that negotiators should even set their sights higher.

"We have to remember that we are now in a boom. Businesses are doing quite well, the economy is growing and there is a shortage of manpower," he pointed out.

Employers' unions: No precedent set

As employers' associations across the country prepare to enter talks with staff representatives over pay and working conditions, some were quick to point out that the Stora Enso deal does not set a precedent.

In an interview with Yle last week, the Technology Industry Employers of Finland's CEO Jarkko Ruohoniemi said that the most telling guide will be set by agreements made in the technology and chemical industries, which account for more than 70 percent of Finnish exports.

However, Palola responded that the STTK union does not believe that deals made in the export industry will have such a knock-on effect, saying that it is very difficult to talk about broad impacts as more sectors move away from the collective bargaining model.

"There is now a decentralised, union-specific round of negotiations, and the unions are pursuing their own goals at the negotiating table," Palola said.

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