Helsinki (12.10.2017 - Heikki Jokinen) Negotiations for the paper industry collective agreement have come to a standstill after the employers' organisation the Finnish Forest Industries Federation offered a zero pay rise to the Paper Workers' Union.

"Zero point something would have surprised us, but pure zero left us in total dismay", said the Union Chairperson Petri Vanhala in an interview with Lännen Media.

The Paper Workers' Union is the first industrial union to negotiate on a pay rise this Autumn. Their collective agreement expired at the end of September.

The Union have not published their exact demands for a pay rise. But it is definitely not zero as the paper industry is doing much better economically now than in the past few years.

The employers are proposing that the existing agreement be extended without changes for one year. During this period there should be agreement on a number of changes "that would lead to substantial improvements in productivity", as they express it.

The subtext of all this means that employers want to have a freer hand to use subcontractors and pay less for working during major holidays like Midsummer and Christmas. Only then will it be possible to discuss a pay rise, say the forest industry.

The Board of the Paper Workers' Union made it clear that a zero level pay rise is a non-starter. It says that the employers’ proposal shows disdain for employees.

"Our people are disappointed", says the Union Chairperson Petri Vanhala talking to business magazine Talouselämä. "After all the moderate national labour market pacts and talk about a new period of economic growth we are in this situation. That was a shock."

Support from other unions

The Union has not pulled out of the negotiations, but has begun making preparations for possible industrial action. Local co-operation at company level ceased on 9. October and the Union updated its instructions for a strike.

Jarkko Eloranta, Chairperson the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions SAK says that the forest industry line will have a negative impact on all the collective agreement negotiations to be held this Autumn.

"It seems like the employers are aiming for a zero pay rise in all branches, but SAK unions will not make zero level agreements."

This year the negotiations are to be held at union level, not at national level, and pay rises may therefore vary, Eloranta adds.

The SAK Board had earlier decided to intensify cooperation and exchange of information among unions to get collective agreements that improve the purchasing power of workers.

Riku Aalto, Chairperson of the Finnish Industrial Union says that should the Paper Workers' Union think they need support, his Union is ready to offer it. So far no such request has been sought.

The forest industry is an important part of the Finnish economy. In 2016, the value of its exports was 11.4 billion euro. This accounted for 22 per cent of the total value of Finnish exports of goods for that year.