Unions from Huhtamäki plants around the world met in Helsinki on 1 June to establish a global trade union network. There are currently a number of disputes between the employer and workers at Huhtamäki's packinging operations, in countries including India, Turkey, and the United States.
Participants at the global network meeting spoke about bad relations between management and trade unions. Very often union representatives have no right even to enter the factory, and in many countries health and safety rights are violated frequently.
Workers at the Commerce, California plant faced harsh working conditions with temperatures often reaching above 40 degrees Celsius. When they decided to organise the company refused to meet with them and brought in anti-union consultants who held mandatory meetings urging workers not to unionize. In 2014, the company spent US$430,000 on anti-union consultants.
Huhtamäki’s Code of Conduct and Code of Conduct for Group Suppliers recognize all fundamental ILO Principles, including the right of employees to associate. However Huhtamäki’s Vice-President, Sami Pauni, told union representatives that in countries that have not ratified ILO Conventions the company follows national law, even if it is weaker than the Conventions. In fact, more than 75 per cent of Huhtamäki’s workforce is found in countries that have not ratified ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association.
Sami Pauni participated in the meeting and gave a brief presentation on the company situation. However, after a question on why Huhtamäki spends a lot of money to fight the unions instead of establishing social dialogue with them, Mr. Pauni became annoyed and left the meeting room.
Commerce worker Levi Ross, who participated in the global network meeting on his holiday time, said on the incident:
I came all the way to Finland hoping to have a serious dialogue with the company, but I feel like they turned their back on me and the workers in Commerce.
IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina said:
This meeting was only the first step in the fight to restore the rights of the workers and trade unions at Huhtamäki plants. The struggle will continue as long as the owners of the company will not agree to respect the workers’ rights and start a serious dialogue with their unions.
The global trade union network meeting was held on the initiative of IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union and attended by workers’ representatives from Huhtamäki plants in Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Russia, Sweden, UK and USA.
The participants of Huhtamäki Global network meeting adopted a statement, proposing steps to improve conditions for Huhtamäki workers and establishing a dialogue with management.