Paperworkers' Union prepared for group-level bargaining

In November 1997, the chair of Finland's Paperworkers' Union spoke in favour of group-level collective agreements in the industry. The employers take a positive view of the idea.

The process of mergers in the Finnish paper industry, which has continued throughout the 1990s, has led to a situation where there are only three large groups of paper companies left - ENSO, Metsä-Serla and UPM-Kymmene. In a speech on 1 November 1997, Jarmo Lähteenmäki, the chair of the Paperworkers' Union (Paperiliitto), predicted that Finland may be facing an era of group-specific collective agreements. According to Mr Lähteenmäki, the organisational arrangements on the employer side do not have any impact on the status of the Paperworkers' Union. He would like the Finnish Forest Industries' Federation (Metsäteollisuus ry) to remain as a bargaining party, but adds that the union is ready to draft nationwide agreements with groups of companies, if required by the situation.

In an interview in the Kauppalehti newspaper on 6 November 1997, Juha Niemelä, the chair of the Finnish Forest Industries' Federation, supported the proposal. According to him, wood-processing companies already have the required knowledge and would be able to take responsibility for collective bargaining.

The Paperworkers' Union has stated that the sector-specific problems of the paper industry will be difficult to solve, and some parties have been worried that this might hinder the conclusion of Finland's national central incomes policy agreement (FI9708126N). The use of outside labour, owing to the increase in the volume of subcontracting, is a threat to the strong status of the union in the labour market, as it might diminish significantly the union's membership. Negotiations at the level of individual unions have been proposed as a solution to sector-specific problems in the forthcoming bargaining round (FI9707124N), and group-level bargaining is also considered to be possible at the moment.

Several other unions have been afraid that bargaining at group level might lead to a breach of the generally binding nature of sectoral collective agreements. In Finland, an agreement is generally binding when over half of the employees in the industry concerned are covered by the agreement, and companies which do not belong to the signatory employers' organisation must adhere to such agreements. The trade union movement considers the generally binding nature of agreements as the foundation of its activities.

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