If the right for workers to stand together against the employer is removed in one company, we risk a domino effect, both in the forest industry and in other sectors.
No sooner had the employers in the Finnish forest industries announced their plan to withdraw from national collective bargaining, than one of the largest companies in the sector, (UPM), went a step further and threatened to individualise wage-setting for its salaried employees. UPM wants to abandon collective bargaining also at the company level and to unilaterally dictate the minimum labour legislation.
The UPM group operates in a sector which represents around one fifth of Finland’s export revenues. UPM has not yet announced whether it will expand its cessation of collective bargaining to include blue-collar workers or to the other countries where it has operations. The group employs in total 18,700 people and has production plants in 12 countries.
Ending collective bargaining is not only aimed at cutting pay. The company has also announced that it will create a new kind of representative system for salaried employees.
The Finnish social model has contributed to a fair labour market with good jobs and good pay since 1940, and the announcement from UPM sends shockwaves through the country’s trade unions. The new strategy could mean pay cuts of thousands of euros for the employees who would also have to individually negotiate for their sick pay, parental leave pay, and additional holiday allowance, which are part of the present collective agreement.
The trade unions in the forest industry see the latest move of the employers as an attempt to exploit the crisis to achieve more flexibility and to cut labour costs. By dismantling a well-functioning model which delivers a level playing field for companies in the sector, they risk undermining working conditions and deepening the crisis.
Jorma Malinen, President of trade union Pro, takes a swipe at UPM: “Their decision shows that the employers have no interest in agreeing with unions even locally. The arrogant strategy of UPM will spread to other companies and other personnel groups gradually, if not immediately. The employees are being completely stripped of their rights to bargain for equal pay and decent terms of employment.“
Isabelle Barthès, Deputy General Secretary of industriAll Europe, is seriously concerned by the announcement from UPM. “If the right for workers to stand together against the employer is removed in one company, we risk a domino effect, both in the forest industry and in other sectors. IndustriAll Europe strongly supports its Finnish affiliates in their struggle to uphold a well-functioning bargaining model.”