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Finnish Paper Industry Uses Court Order to Block Government Protest

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11 February, 2008

A planned protest inside Finland’s Stora Enso pulp and paper mills for 6 February was cancelled, following a Labour Court ruling that saw the demonstration as a collective bargaining act. The case was brought to the court by the Finnish Forest Industries Federation, on behalf of Stora Enso.

The work-time protest, decided a week earlier by Stora Enso workers, was aimed at the Finnish government, which holds 16% of Stora Enso’s shares, and controls 34% of the company. On 29 January, at a public meeting in Helsinki attended by 500 people and sponsored by Finnish unions Paperiliitto and Toimihenkilöunioni, three government ministers declined to intervene to halt Stora’s mill and paper machine shutdowns.

Two days later, workers themselves decided to do on-the-job protests against the Finnish government. This was quickly met by employers rushing to Finland’s Labour Court and getting an expedited ruling forbidding the protests. The unions and Finnish employers officially opened industry-wide talks on 5 February for 25,000 workers employed by multiple pulp and paper companies.

“We are disappointed that the government did not take action to stop the closures, at least until further study and other remedies could be found,” stated ICEM General Secretary Manfred Warda. “We also find it unusual that in a country such as Finland, a Labour Court would be used to block a legitimate workers’ protest.”

If the 7,000 Stora Enso workers had defied the ruling, Finnish trade unions would have been subjected to a compensatory fine, payable to the employer. There is no procedure for appeal of the Labour Court ruling.

At the 29 January public meeting, Finnish Defence Minister Jyri Häkämies, who heads the government’s enterprise ownership oversight, as well as Labour Minister Tarja Cromberg and Economic Affairs Minister Mauri Pekkarinen, gave no pledge that the government could or would intervene on Stora Enso’s latest restructuring plan.

The following day, 30 January, Stora Enso permanently idled one paper machine at its Summa, Finland, newsprint and book papers mill in Kymenlaakso, while it shut the mill’s second paper machine on 31 January. A total of 450 jobs were lost. An equal number also will be eliminated when the Kemijärvi pulp mill shuts in April 2008, and a paper machine at the Anjala mill ceases production in November.

The 20-million-member International Federation of Chemical, Energy, and Mine Workers’ Union (ICEM) is also critical of Stora Enso’s unwillingness to grow jobs rather than destroy them at the company’s Norrsundet, Sweden, mill. There, 350 jobs are expected to be made redundant when Stora closes the bleached softwood kraft pulp mill late this year rather than sell it to a perspective buyer.

In Finland, industry-wide social talks did begin on 5 February with the unions and Finnish Forest Industries Federation exchanging initial proposals. The existing three-year contract for Finland’s number one industrial sector expires on 31 May 2008.