The Finnish multinational forest company UPM announced on 8 February that it will no longer engage in any kind of collective agreements at any level for salaried employees in Finland. All terms of work will be negotiated on an individual basis.
Jorma Malinen, President of Trade Union Pro, sees this as the beginning of a serious effort to destroy the whole Finnish culture of collective agreements, as well as a determined assault on our welfare state.
Trade Union Pro estimates that switching from collective agreements to fully individual terms of work would mean, annually, a pay-cut of thousands of euro for those covered by the existing salaried employees collective agreements.
The Finnish labour market model is based on collective agreements. For this reason there is no national minimum pay and other terms of work are, as a rule, better than those stipulated in the legislation.
Finnish employers – including the forest industry – have been recently drumming up the need for company level collective agreements. Now, UPM says it will not have that, either.
“The UPM announcement is proof that employers and owners do not want to negotiate even at company level. Employees are being completely stripped of their rights to bargain, equal pay, and terms of employment”, Malinen says.
UPM has not yet announced whether it will expand its cessation of collective bargaining in respect of salaried employees to include other groups of employees or to the other 11 countries where it has production plants.
Historically speaking, this can only be seen as a most dramatic move. In January 1940 – in the middle of the three-month Winter War against the Soviet Union – employers accepted unions and the trade union confederation SAK as partners in collective bargaining. In 2021, UPM decides this road has come to an end: employees’ unions are no longer worth negotiating with.
No more rights for shop stewards
Ending collective bargaining is not only aimed at cutting pay. The company also announced that it will create a new kind of representative system for employees.
“Employers that are operating in dictatorships and poor, developing countries are typically introducing these kinds of workplace-specific associations.” UPM’s new stance should not only worry the trade union movement, but Finnish society as a whole, Jorma Malinen warns.
This clearly means refusing to work with union shop stewards. The rights and tasks of shop stewards are clearly defined in all collective agreements. For UPM, in future, shop stewards will obviously be inconsequential.
“The arrogant announcement of UPM to replace employees’ own voluntary organising will spread to other companies and other personnel groups gradually, if not immediately.” Malinen urges quick legal reforms to safeguard the right to collective agreements.