This is a setback for sectoral collective agreements. If one brick is removed from a solid social model that functions well, others might follow.
The employers in the Finnish forest industries have launched an attack on the country’s well-functioning collective bargaining model. On 1 October 2020 they announced their intention to withdraw from national collective bargaining and transfer future negotiations on wages and working conditions to the company level. The change is historic and significant in Finland, as the forest industry which covers paper, pulp and wood, is one of the largest in the country. The value chain of the forest industry employs 140,000 people and accounts for about one-fifth of Finland's exports in goods.
The trade unions in the forest industry are astounded by this announcement by the employers and regard it as an attempt to exploit the crisis to get rid of their responsibility as a national social partner organisation. The objective of the employers is apparently to achieve more flexibility, to cut labour costs in order to create better competitiveness in future. But by dismantling a well-functioning model which delivers quality jobs and a level-playing field for companies in the sector, they risk undermining working conditions and deepening the crisis.
This decision is a major step backwards for workers’ rights will have a huge negative impact on Finland’s labour market. It is also difficult to understand at a moment when the COVID-19 crisis has clearly demonstrated that sectoral industrial relations are powerful tools to manage crises. The President of the Finnish Industrial Union (Riku Alto) strongly regrets the position of the employers in the sector as the existing system “has brought stability and predictability to our labour market”. However, the Industrial Union believes that the employers’ unilateral decision opens up a good opportunity to improve the union density in the sector.
The national sectoral collective agreements are negotiated by three different national unions for paper workers, industrial workers and white collars. The current agreements are valid until the end of 2021, some even longer.
Isabelle Barthès, Deputy General Secretary of industriAll Europe, says she is surprised and worried by the plans of the Finnish employers in the forest industry. "This is a setback for sectoral collective agreements. If one brick is removed from a solid social model that functions well, others might follow. Needless to say, industriAll Europe stands firmly by its Finnish affiliates in their struggle for continued social dialogue and collective bargaining, also at the sectoral level."
Information from the Finnish trade unions