Helsinki (10.10.1997 - Juhani Artto) The entire forest industry was almost shut down in September because of a subcontracting dispute. The question concerned the choice of collective agreement applicable to the 54 maintanence workers at the tissue paper mill of Nokia Paper Oy.

The roots of the conflict go back to autumn 1995 when the company transferred its maintanence unit and staff to a subcontractor, ABB Service. According to an agreement made in autumn 1995, the workers were to work under the collective agreement of the paper industry until early September 1997, instead of that of the metalworking sector to which ABB Service belongs.

In opposition to the position of ABB Service, the maintanence workers themselves wanted to continue to serve under the paper industry agreement after the September expiry date.

The action began with a maintanence worker strike. Paper workers in other mills soon organized sympathy strikes and the union threatened to call a national strike.

A large scale strike was avoided by deferring the solution of the problem to the end of next January when the national collective agreements for the paper and metalworking industries expire.

The labour court condemned the sympathy strikes as illegal and imposed heavy fines on the union.

In Finland there is a decades-long tradition of industrial unions, leading to conflicts every now and thens. The present international business trend towards outsourcing exacerbates the situation.

Any abandonment of the principle of organizing along the industry lines would threaten the union of pulp and paper workers with the loss of one third of its 28.000 working members.

Nokia Paper is owned by James Fort, the world's second largest tissue paper producer.