Negotiations interrupted in merchant shipping

Download article in original language : FI0212101NFI.DOC

Negotiations over a new collective agreement for the Finnish merchant shipping sector were interrupted in November 2002 due to a disagreement concerning the use of foreign labour. The employers are seeking a legislative amendment, opposed by the trade union, which would allow the use of foreign labour on Finnish vessels.

In November 2002, talks between the Finnish Seafarers' Union (Suomen Merimies-Unioni, SMURY) and the Finnish Shipowners’ Association (Suomen Varustamoyhdistys, SVY) on a collective agreement applying at sectoral level the new 2003-4 central incomes policy agreement (FI0211102F) were interrupted due to a dispute about the long-running issue of the use of foreign labour (FI0209106N) and additional cost savings for employers. According to SMURY, it cannot commit itself to a deal if employers can, during the period of the agreement, replace part of their crews with cheap labour. SVY, for its part, does not want to commit itself to demanding no additional savings in personnel costs. The interrupted negotiations relate to a new collective agreement for about 7,000 seafarers working on Finnish cargo and passenger vessels in international traffic.

Disputes concerning foreign labour in Finnish merchant shipping have continued for several years, and are now blocking a new collective agreement. In 2001, SMURY, SVY and the government concluded an agreement on a subsidy package for the the sector, including tax cuts, which was intended to lessen the pressure on shipowners to cut costs and allow foreign labour on Finnish vessels (FI0106188N). Now, however, it looks as if these measures have been insufficient and SVY is seeking additional savings through amendments in the relevant legislation so as to permit foreign labour - something opposed by the trade union.

The dispute can also be seen to involve a wider issue of principle - an impetus toward the use of low-paid foreign labour more generally in Finland. So far, however, all Finnish employers' organisations have committed themselves to paying foreign workers in line with the wages set out in Finnish collective agreements (FI0209103N).

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