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UPM cuts down collective bargaining in Finland

15 December, 2021Finnish multinational forestry, pulp and paper company UPM has refused to negotiate a company-wide collective contract, weeks before the expiry of the national sectoral agreement.

The company has said that a company-wide collective agreement is unnecessary, and that work will continue on the basis of “labour law, UPM practices and personal employment contracts.”

The current national agreement for the sector expires at the end of the year. In October 2020, the employer’s group withdrew from national sectoral bargaining, meaning that the national collective agreement needs to be replaced by agreements negotiated with each company.

Unions have negotiated, and in some case concluded, agreements with other companies in the sector, but UPM has refused to engage in collective negotiations with the three unions representing its workers. Instead, the forestry giant is demanding five separate agreements with different groups of workers – and refuses to negotiate with representatives of white-collar workers.

UPM has said that it is willing to negotiate a separate agreement per business area with unions representing blue-collar workers, IndustriALL Global Union affiliates Teollisuusliitto (Industrial Union) and Paperiliitto (Paper Union).

Paperiliitto has announced a three-week strike, starting in January.

UPM has refused all negotiations with the white-collar union Proliitto (Pro Union). In a move clearly intended to undermine the union, the company has also cancelled dues check-off for Proliitto, a practice that has been in place since the 1970s.

The stance of UPM in Finland has raised concerns internationally with unions organizing the company’s plants, and the Uruguayan paper workers’ union FOPCU – also an IndustriALL affiliate – wrote to the CEO expressing concern at the company’s retreat from good practice in industrial relations.

Finnish unions are concerned that UPM’s intransigence, which is unusual in a country typically noted for industrial harmony, will set a precedent in undermining labour market security.

IndustriALL director for pulp and paper, Tom Grinter, said:

“UPM is trying to dilute workers’ collective power by insisting that there is no need for a company-wide agreement. The company believes that it will gain advantage by dividing workers, and hopes that it will cause unions to compete with each other.

“We are here to tell them that this will not work: pulp and paper workers across the world stand united in their condemnation of this unfortunate tactic that undermines the good work achieved over the company’s long history.

“As the only forestry company on the United Nations Global Compact, UPM claims to lead on sustainability – but there can be no sustainability without workers’ rights, including the right to bargain collectively.”

UPM was started as United Paper Mills in the early 1870s.

Photo: UPM