Helsinki (03.01.2011 - Juhani Artto) In the last few years thousands of employees have lost their jobs as a result of pulp and paper mill closures. Esa Kaitila, a researcher working at The Paperworkers' Union, calculates that since 2006 over 4,000 of its rank and file members have lost their jobs due to closures.

Director Markku Palokangas from the largest union of salaried employees PRO estimates that in the same period from 1,500 to 2,000 salaried employee jobs have been eliminated in the pulp and paper industry. 

A new study provides detailed information on how the workers of the closed mills in Hamina (Summa), Kajaani and Kemijärvi have fared in the labour market following the closures. Not well, as was indeed expected already 2-3 years ago when the closure plans were announced.

Only 30 per cent of the respondents to the questionnaire had a new job on 1 October 2010. One fifth of them were working at a factory demolition site, and slightly more people had found employment in agriculture, in forestry or in fisheries. One in seven of the employed had found employment in the pulp and paper industry. In their new jobs the former paper mill workers consistently found themselves in jobs offering lower wages and poorer working conditions than they had enjoyed in their previous jobs.

Another 30 per cent were so old that they were on the so-called unemployment pathway to retirement. (An unemployed person born before 1950, and who reached the age of 57 prior to the end of the maximum unemployment allowance period of 500 days, has entered the unemployment pathway to retirement. The person will receive continued unemployment allowance until the end of the month in which he or she turns 60.At this stage, he or she may receive an unemployment pension.)

The rest - about 40 per cent in all - benefited from the activation measures of the authorities. Thanks to these measures these workers either studied or were temporarily employed.

Workers in support jobs had found it easier to gain employment than production workers. Support work covers catering, security, welding and cleaning and personnel connected to storage and maintenance units.

The study established that for older workers it had been clearly more difficult to find work than for the younger ones. This trend was aggravated by the lack of interest and willingness on the part of the authorities to support workers who were over 54 years of age. But even among those who could claim a measure of support from the authorities many were dissatisfied with the kind of support they had received. Teaching and learning new skills had too often become irrelevant and practical training was criticized as having been primarily a way to deliver companies with free-of-charge labour.

The study on paperworkers' options in the labour market was made by researcher Ari-Matti Näätänen and commissioned by The Paperworkers' Union and the union confederation SAK.

Mixed picture among salaried employees

"Partially salaried employees of the closed mills have fared surprisingly well", PRO's Markku Palokangas says. Employees from the maintenance units and partly from research units are those who have had it easiest when it came to finding a new job. 

Least successful in finding new jobs have been production supervisors and especially women over 50 years of age who have held various office or clerical positions.