Further discussions to resolve problems in forestry and papermaking

In June 1997, the Paperworkers' Union decided that it would withdraw from any discussions on a comprehensive incomes policy until its problems with the forestry employers had been resolved. Negotiations with the employers have now commenced. According to some labour market experts, it is impossible to have a comprehensive agreement on incomes policy in Finland without the Paperworkers' Union.

The Paperworkers' Union's announcement in June 1997 (FI9707124N) that it would withdraw from negotiations on a comprehensive national incomes policy, means that its problems with the forestry employers must be resolved within the current incomes policy framework before negotiations on a new comprehensive incomes policy begin in the autumn. Lauri Ihalainen, the chair of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), stated that particular problems in the forestry sector such as the use of outside labour, lay-off benefit security, working hours and personnel funds have been particularly difficult problems for the Paper Workers' Union.

For several years, one major issue of disagreement between the two sides in the industry has been the use of outside labour in the paper mills. The dispute has been about the right of the paper companies to transfer such tasks as maintenance, security, transportation or cleaning to outside companies. The companies claim that it is cheaper to use outside labour in these kinds of jobs. According to the union, any approval to use outside labour would weaken the union's labour market status because the changes might affect as many as 10,000 employees, and this would mean that the union might lose as much as a third of its present membership. In autumn 1995, this dispute was settled by the employers unilaterally stating that these activities would not be transferred to outside contractors during the currency of the present agreement.

On the issue of working hours, the employers would like the mills to work continually around the year whereas the Paperworkers' Union is seeking to reduce working time. Restrictions concerning the use of the lay-off security benefit is also a very important issue to the union, because the export sector is very sensitive to economic fluctuations, and it is the employees in this sector who are always the first to be laid off. Yet another worry for the union has been the power stations linked to the mills, whose employees might be in future be covered by agreements for the electricity industry. The union does not want to lose its members who are working in power plants. There is also a dispute about the personnel funds (a form of profit-sharing scheme), concerning the decision by the two major paper companies UPM-Kymmene and Enso to abolish the profit bonus system related to the personnel funds.

Both Mauri Moren, the deputy managing director of the Forest Industry Association, and Jarmo Lähteenmäki, the chair of the Paperworkers' Union, have had their doubts about the possibility of solving the sector-specific problems of the forest industry before the official negotiations on incomes policy commence. Mr Lähteenmäki is also critical of the present negotiating structure whereby union-specific problems have to be resolved within the confines of strict centralised agreements on incomes policy. He feels this system is outdated.

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