Workers at the Finnish forestry group UPM have been on strike since 1 January and are committed to carry on until at least 5 February. They are protesting against the breaking-up of their former company collective agreement into separate agreements for each of the five business units and against the exclusion of white-collar workers from collective bargaining coverage by putting them into a higher level of managerial staff. There has been a company agreement for decades at UPM, but this is being sacrificed as part of the company’s withdrawal from collective agreements. The trade unions are demanding a uniform agreement on working conditions.
UPM is guilty of an ideological refusal of collective bargaining, and this is happening in a country with traditionally good industrial relations. Should the company get its way, its white-collar workers will be left to bargain individually, without the backing of a powerful union.
The employers in Finland’s large forest industry have managed to decentralise bargaining to the company level in an unprecedented attack on national agreements in the Nordic countries. From now on, workers and their unions in the sector will have to resort to company bargaining. There are several conflicts and industrial actions, most notably in UPM, where the company has also rejected local bargaining with its employees.
Unions have started strike action in all of UPM’s plants. In response, the company has stopped collecting membership fees for the unions, something which had been assured by a collective agreement since the 1970s. Furthermore, the company promises strikebreakers payments of 30 euros extra per day. UPM has moved some of its white-collar employees to a higher category of managerial staff in order to deprive them of bargaining coverage. Employees who have accepted such transfers, have effectively given up their right to strike. To this extent, UPM is undermining organised labour in the company.
There is currently no progress or hope for a solution in sight, despite mediation attempts. Unions from around the world have sent solidarity messages to the Finnish workers of UPM.
Paradoxically, the company has been awarded FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification that is linked to a moral obligation for companies to act responsibly, not just in the management of the world’s forests, but also vis-vis its own employees.
IndustriAll Europe Deputy General Secretary, Isabelle Barthès, reacted strongly to the attitude of UPM:
“UPM is now showing the true extent of its anti-union, anti-collective bargaining agenda. Not only has the company withdrawn from a national agreement, but it also rejects company negotiations and rewards strikebreaking.
“IndustriAll Europe and its affiliates are highly alarmed and strongly warn against the individualisation of wage-setting. Together, we are calling on UPM to return to reasoning and to the negotiating table.”
Update: the participants of a joint workshop of industriAll Europe and UNI Europa, bringing together representatives of workers in the the tissue sector, have on 24 January declared their solidarity with the Finnish colleagues at UPM: EN