UPM frames paper mill strike as a force majeure

forest industry

The shortage of printing paper becomes more critical due to the strike at the UPM Finnish paper mills. The printing industry around the world has been highlighting their urgent need for paper, which UPM is unable to deliver.

UPM claims that the strike is a force majeure, a situation over which UPM has no control. According to the forestry giant, they are not breaking their contracts when not delivering paper. Some paper buyers are not accepting this argument automatically.

The Paper Workers’ Union and the Trade Union Pro issued in February an open letter stressing that there is no force majeure. The unions say that it is fully up to UPM to end the strike any day they wish.

The strike at UPM Finnish paper mills began in the beginning of January, because UPM refused to continue the existing collecting agreement until the new one was signed, which  is normal procedure in Finland and practically always followed.

On the contrary, UPM unilaterally refused to honour this so-called post-contractual protection time. Instead, they’d rather see a strike go ahead than let a single day’s work get done in their paper mills under collective agreements.

The unions have indicated very clearly that had UPM accepted the normal post-contractual protection time, collective bargaining would have been underway without industrial action.

The unions also stress that they are not demanding anything more than which is already agreed on in the other collective agreements.

Their proposal for a pay rise was 1.9 per cent when in most collective agreements this year it has been 2 per cent. Other terms of employment would remain the same as in the previous collective agreement, the unions say.

Regarding the content of the collective agreements, the main thing that UPM wants is longer working hours, an increase of between 80 – 100 hours a year. Without extra pay, which in practical terms means cuts in pay.

With regard to salaried employees, UPM refuses even to begin collective bargaining. The company will no longer have any collective agreement with Trade Union Pro, representing the salaried employees.

“A force majeure situation does not exist, but this is a conflict caused by the company pursuing its ideological objectives”, the unions say in their letter. “It is important to note that the conflict is not caused by the demands of trade unions aiming to improve earlier terms and conditions of work.”

Heikki Jokinen

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