UPM braced for strike action at Finnish ops

Master reels at UPM Kymi, which can make 705,000tpa
Master reels at UPM Kymi, which can make 705,000tpa

UPM is facing the prospect of three weeks of strike action at its Finnish mills from the start of the new year, at a time when the industry is already dealing with shortages and a supply squeeze on some paper grades.

The Finnish Paperworkers’ Union (Paperiliitto) has issued a strike notification that will start at 6am on 1 January at UPM’s mills, running through until 22 January.

The move follows a long-running dispute with the union that dates back to the spring. Two other related unions: Sähköliitto (electrical workers) and Trade Union Pro (supervisors) have joined the warning of strike action.

Together the unions represent around 5,000 employees. 

The current collective agreements between the Paperworkers’ Union and The Finnish Forest Industries Federation will expire on 31 December.

UPM wants to bring in business-specific collective bargaining in order to negotiate flexible ways of organising work, working hours and salaries.

UPM told Printweek that the affected mills are:

  • UPM Jämsänkoski (graphic papers including uncoated magazine paper and specialty papers)
  • UPM Kymi (WFC and WFU graphic papers including Finesse and Fine)
  • UPM Kaukas (LWC graphic papers including Ultra and Star)
  • UPM Rauma (LWC magazine papers)
  • UPM Tervasaari (specialty release liner base papers)
  • UPM Raflatac Tampere (labels)

In addition the UPM Kymi, UPM Pietarsaari and UPM Kaukas pulp mills will also be subject to the mooted industrial action, as will the UPM Kaukas biorefinery.

The Pro union said: “The strike will cover all work under the collective agreement for employees in the paper industry in the following companies: UPM Communication Papers Oy, UPM Raflatac Oy, UPM Specialty Papers Oy, UPM Sales Oy, UPM Pulp Sales Oy and UPM-Kymmene Corporation. The strike applies to all work under the collective agreement for employees.”

UPM papers are sold via a number of UK merchants with Denmaur Paper Media, Premier Paper and Antalis the main stockists.

A merchanting source commented: “On top of the state of the market and the shortages of paper this could be catastrophic.

“It couldn’t come at a worse time with lead times already so extended. The part-mechanical market is desperate for tonnage,” the source said. 

UPM said that “should the strike materialise” it would implement plans to “meet customer demand through deliveries from its mills outside Finland to the extent possible.”

However, it’s not clear what sort of extra capacity those mills could provide at the present time.

UPM would not disclose the financial impact of the possible strike action at this point, but last year – prior to the dramatic increase in pulp and paper prices during 2021 – a 14-day strike that shuttered its pulp and paper mills, along with four weeks of action at its plywood and timber mills, cost the group around €30m (£25.6m).

In a statement, Riitta Savonlahti, UPM's executive vice president for human resources, said: “We have sent several invitations to the Paperworkers’ Union since last spring, but the invitations have not been accepted. 

“The strike announcement is an exceptional procedure, as the announced strikes are taking place in businesses in which any negotiations have not started, apart from the UPM Lappeenranta Biorefinery. 

“Thus, the strike announcement is given before even the negotiating objectives have been presented on either side. In our view, the negotiating parties have a duty to do everything in their power to reach an agreement before resorting to a strike or an external conciliation process. Now this has not happened,” she said. 

Savonlahti added that despite the strike announcement, UPM continued to aim for business-specific collective agreements with the Paperworkers’ Union, as it has already done with the Industrial Union. 

“Through an agreement everybody can reach better terms of employment than without one,” she said. 

UPM also expressed concerns that the Paperworkers’ Union had not excluded “tasks critical to society… such as operating and maintenance of water treatment and power plants” from the strike action. 

The group said it would pay additional fixed-term salary, understood to be €30/day, to workers “who are looking after their duties during the strike”.

UPM had sales of €8.58bn last year.

It sold its UPM Shotton newsprint mill earlier this year, leaving it with one mill in the UK – UPM Caledonian in Irvine, Scotland.