Helsinki (01.09.2021 - Heikki Jokinen) The Finnish forestry giant UPM says it is ready to organise terms of work in Finland without any collective agreement altogether after the existing agreements expire. The Paper Workers' Union is willing to negotiate at company level, but UPM refuses to consider the possibility.
In October last year, the forest industry employers' association decided that it would pull out of national level collective agreements. All collective agreements should be made at company level. The existing national agreements expire at the end of 2021.
On 10 August, the Paper Workers' Union announced that collective bargaining is going on in companies that cover 70 per cent of the employees of the existing paper workers' collective agreement.
Some negotiations have already made considerable progress, the Union said. The goal of the union is to ensure that all new collective agreements should be ready in November.
On 31 August, UPM surprisingly announced that they are prepared to continue without a paper workers' collective agreement. The company would instead define the terms of work on the basis of "labour law, UPM practices and personal employment contracts", as their press release put it.
According to UPM, this seems to be necessary, as the Paper Workers' Union wants to negotiate a company level agreement. UPM wants to get five separate agreements inside the company with the Union.
For this reason, UPM refuses to negotiate on a company level collective agreement, Instead, it has begun to inform employees how the new situation would likely look in practise.
The Union views this as threatening. According to a calculation UPM presented to their employees, pay would drop by one third from January onwards, the union says. Many benefits agreed in the collective agreement would also disappear.
For UPM, it is obviously not only a question of pay. They want to undermine workers' rights and the Paper Workers' Union itself. Without collective agreements, the existing system of shop stewards would be badly broken.
Another attempt to try and weaken the union concerns collecting union membership dues. Now, the collective agreement stipulates that the employer do this when paying salaries. Without an agreement, this would end.
UPM has even more radical plans with regard to salaried employees. It announced back in February 2021 that it will make no collective agreements with them at all.
The hawkish line being taken by UPM now threatens to make the labour market future very insecure in Finland. The spirit of cooperation and drafting of agreements has deep roots in Finnish society. Now, UPM wants to introduce new norms in Finland, and this will not be easy.
It is possible that the company believes now is the time to go on the offensive as their own economy and financial situation is very strong. UPM’s operating profit for the first half-year 2021 rose by 22 per cent from last year to 586 million Euro.