Review of 2022: Strike action at Finnish paper mills

The already under pressure paper industry began 2022 in an entirely inauspicious manner. At the end of 2021 the Finnish Paperworkers’ Union, Paperiliitto, issued a strike notification to start at 6am on 1 January at UPM’s mills.

The strike action resulted from the fact that pay agreements between the union and The Finnish Forest Industries Federation were due to expire on 31 December and UPM wanted to bring in business-specific collective bargaining in order to negotiate flexible ways of organising work, working hours and salaries, to which the union objected.

The strike was initially only going to last until 22 January, but that was not to be…

On 5 January, the Finnish Paperworkers’ Union extended the strike to 5 February, unless new agreements were reached before that date – they weren’t. The union said it had extended the strike because UPM management had rejected an emailed proposal from the union for a new collective labour agreement and had not made a counter-proposal. 

On 21 January the union extended the strike by another two weeks to 19 February – the roadblock in negotiations seemed insurmountable.

On 4 February, the union extended its action once again, this time for an extra three weeks, to 12 March.

The already complicated situation hit a further snag because the Paperworkers’ Union had invited the UPM Pulp business to negotiations on 7 February with the collective labour agreements advisory board, which includes board members from companies that compete with UPM. “Due to anti-trust compliance, genuine negotiations on UPM’s business-specific issues could not be conducted,” UPM stated.

On 14 February, the European print trade body Intergraf, of which the BPIF is a member, called for an end to the strike, warning that printers across the continent would be left unable to fulfil orders as stocks dwindled.

Soon after UPM cited ‘force majeure’ for its inability to fulfil customer orders due to the strike action, but unions rejected that, describing the situation as “a conflict caused by the company pursuing its ideological objectives”. At 46 days, the strike was now the longest in the history of Finnish paper manufacturing.

On 17 February, the crisis in paper supply made the mainstream headlines and BPIF CEO Charles Jarrold appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Wake Up to Money show to explain how the lack of supply was being made worse by the ongoing strike action at UPM
in Finland. 

On 24 February, UPM issued an update which stated that “intense negotiations” were ongoing between the group and the Paperworkers’ Union, but the union had announced a three-week extension to the strike, until 2 April, unless agreements could be reached before that.

There were further extensions on 16 and 31 March, despite a proposed settlement drawn up by the conciliator on 22 March.

On 8 April, the strike passed its 100th day.

On 14 April, the Finnish Paperworkers’ Union rejected the four strike settlement proposals on the table, throwing the industry into further despair. However, the darkest hour is often before dawn and on 21 April, UPM announced that the conciliator had submitted settlement proposals for all five businesses involved with collective bargaining between UPM and the Paperworkers’ Union, including for UPM Communication Papers, which was left out of the earlier proposals submitted as talks had stalled. 

On 22 April the union and UPM agreed to accept the proposals – after 112 days – the longest industrial action of its kind in Finland – the strike was over.