Ideology takes upper hand in UMP labour market policy

The forestry giant UPM still shows no willingness to find a way towards an agreement with the trade unions. For UPM leaders, ideology and the wish to crush the unions is foremost amongst its policy goals.

UPM adamantly refuses to negotiate a collective agreement for salaried employees and will only begin to negotiate on collective agreements for workers in its paper and pulp mills if the unions accept its preconditions as to the form of the agreement.

The company just simply refused to negotiate on the basis of the more than 30 other collective agreements the Paper Workers’ Union had already agreed upon with other companies in the branch, including Stora Enso and the Metsä Group. UPM did not even bother to give their own proposal to the union.

Another unique and radical new policy is that UPM does not accept that the expired collective agreements should continue to be followed until a new one is signed. In Finland, this is extremely unusual.

As the company refuses to negotiate and does not accept the extension of the expired collective agreements, it believes it is fully within its rights to unilaterally announce the new terms of work for its employees. Naturally, the unions do not accept this.

When looking at the big picture, UPM policy becomes even more difficult to understand. Practically all other companies in the pulp and paper industry have made company-specific collective agreements with the trade unions without any major problems.

Strike continues until 19 February

The Finnish Electrical Workers’ Union and the Paper Workers’ Union were forced to declare a strike at UPM from the first of January this year. As the first three weeks of strike failed to alter UPM’s stance an inch, the unions are to continue with the strike, first for another two weeks and then, for a further two weeks, until 19 February.

According to the Paper Workers’ Union, it has proposed to UPM for discussions be held on how to find a way to begin negotiations. But UPM refuses to even consider this, the union says.

Trade Union Pro, which represents the salaried employees at UPM, began an overtime ban at the company from 22 January.

UPM refuses even to discuss a collective agreement for salaried employees. Instead, it unilaterally offers terms of work for them. According to Pro, the company has thus far even put forward some forms of working hours that are either illegal or contrary to the collective agreement.

Shop stewards for salaried employees have now been sidelined at UPM. The company does not consult them on questions like working hours and does not want to agree with the union on a functioning system with regard to shop stewards’ duties and responsibilities.

The Transport Workers’ Union AKT has shown solidarity with UPM workers and began 24 January refusing to handle UPM paper and pulp at Finnish ports.

Jussi Pesonen, UPM CEO, responded the same way as he has many times before: with a threat to move production out of Finland. In his tweet, Pesonen says that if things do not go as UPM wants, preparation for a plan where “painful expense cuts and arrangements become necessary” will happen quickly.

Mikko Kärnä, MP for the centre-right Centre Party made a complaint about CEO Pesonen to the Financial Supervisory Authority. He said Pesonen seems to have “a personal vendetta against the Paper Workers’ Union”.

Kärnä asks the Authority to judge whether Pesonen’s earlier threat to close paper mills if the union strikes is legal for a public company. He also made the observation that Pesonen’s statements could have a negative effect on the company’s share price, turnover and profit.

Heikki Jokinen

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