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Wage deal brings sawmill strike to an end

Employer and employee negotiators agreed on Sunday to accept a settlement tabled by the national labour conciliator.

Riku Aalto, Jyrki Hollmen ja Turja Lehtonen
Finnish Forest Industries' labout market director Jyrki Hollmen (centre) with Industrial Union chair Riku Aalto (left) jand first vice chair Turja Lehtonen at the national labour conciliator's office on Sunday. Image: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva

A long-running dispute by employers and workers at sawmills and plywood mills came to an end on Sunday, when representatives from both sides reached a settlement.

The employers’ lobby, Finnish Forest Industries or Metsäteollisuus and the workers’ representative, the Industrial Union accepted an offer tabled by national labour conciliator Vuokko Piekkala by the 2pm deadline on Sunday.

"Both sides have accepted the settlement offer," Piekkala said.

The parties also agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement for carpentry workers. The agreements cover a total of 9,000 union members altogether.

According to Piekkala, the deal gives workers an overall 3.3-percent wage hike over two years, and is in line with agreements in other sectors. Additionally, the contentious 24 extra hours of annual unpaid work introduced by the Juha Sipilä government in 2016 has been eliminated. It will be replaced by other kinds of work shifts.

24 hours of unpaid work eliminated

Industrial Union first vice chair Turja Lehtonen said that the most recent proposal was better than previous ones that the union rejected over the past two weeks.

"The settlement now reached is the best that can be achieved in these circumstances," he added.

"Compared to previous proposals, compensation was in better balance than in the previous ones," he continued.

The workers’ union was particularly aggrieved by the additional 24 hours of working time introduced nearly four years ago. It had also turned down previous proposals that would have eliminated double-pay for working on public holidays such as Good Friday and Ascension Day.

While the employers’ lobby would have accepted the previous proposals, it described the new deal as satisfactory, as the extra 24 hours of unpaid work will be replaced by more flexible working hours.

"The agreement is in line with our goals: working time has been maintained, while productivity and flexibility will increase. We will have more opportunities to plan annual leave and to achieve cost reductions in continuous operations by applying them locally," the employer representative's labour market director Jyrki Hollmén noted.

Strike ends immediately

The strike by sawmill and plywood mill workers began in January and lasted nearly four weeks. Employers also implemented a nearly-week-long lockout during the negotiations.

According to union vice chair Lehtonen, the strike will end immediately and workers will be back on the job on Monday morning at the latest.

"The goal is for people scheduled to work on the evening and night shifts to go out, as far as they can be reached, but at the latest the morning shift will start normally at 6am," he explained.

Lehtonen described the long-running labour standoff and the strike as exceptionally tough.

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