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JUHANI ARTTO
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Union leader on UPM's logger policy:
"This deserves to be categorised as white slave trade"

 
Helsinki (31.08.2012 - Juhani Artto) Sakari Lepola, the President of the Wood and Allied Workers' Union, is incensed by what he discovered on a recent visit to UPM's mill and forests in Rauma, a coastal city in Western Finland. This anger was provoked by the double-standard being employed by the Finnish multinational in regard to its personnel policy.

From the point of view of a trade unionist, superficially at least, the situation at the mill was satisfactory. Cooperation between the management and the employees was running smoothly, and in contrast to many other companies, maintenance work had not been outsourced. Within the walls or confines of the mill the company seems to understand the value of its workforce, Lepola writes in Särmä, the union magazine. "This is how a large multinational company should behave."

But on venturing into the forest - a short trip from the mill - Lepola felt he had taken a step into the past. Lepola, a former logger himself, says it was hard to believe that he was still visiting the same company. "How can the values of a company operating in the forest differ so dramatically from the values just a few kilometers away at the mill “, he wonders.

When it comes to forest work, UPM and its forest management company Silvesta operate an entirely different regime, whereby there is no direct employment relationship between company and workers. Work is offered only to people working on an entrepreneurial basis. Lepola was informed that this kind of procedure is "a flexible way" of getting the work done.

"Yes, flexible indeed, as the worker has to be flexible concerning his/her wage, holiday pay, bonuses, sick leave compensation and anything else where the collective agreement and the legislation regulate minimum standards. And there is a clear downside when it comes to employment security. When a logger is laid off or his/her services are no longer needed he or she does not get the same compensation as those who were in an employment relationship with the company on becoming unemployed.

Lepola's list is long when he comes to describing how differently the legislation treats persons in employment relations and individuals who have the status of an entrepreneur or who are self-employed.

He is angry not just because of the double-standard UPM has adopted but also because this is a fairly new development in the Finnish forest industry. "Suddenly, we have moved a hundred years backwards", Lepola laments. According to him this can be justly called the "white slave trade" as these loggers have not voluntarily chosen to work as such…as entrepreneurs or self-employed people…but have been left with no alternative.

Lepola is demanding that this "one type of human trafficking" should be prohibited by legislation.

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