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Trade Union News from Finland
Foreign owners make their presence felt
in the Finnish paper industry

Helsinki (18.04.2013 - Heikki Jokinen) Some 40 paper, paperboard and pulp factories in Finland are now owned by foreign companies. The problems facing the traditionally strong Finnish paper industry together with major investments by Finnish forest industry companies abroad have provided an opening for new investors in Finland itself.

At the beginning of last year these foreign owned companies employed 3.688 permanent workers and a further 187 in temporary jobs. By the end of June 2012 the number of permanent workers in the paper, paperboard and pulp industry in Finland was 14.210 with 3.236 temporary workers.

Paperiliitto, the magazine of the Finnish Paper Workers' Union, looked at changes on the floor level in the foreign owned factories. The article is written by the Finnish freelancer Matti Remes. The shop stewards interviewed reported no major conflicts, but there are often differences in management culture.

"Sometimes it is difficult to deal with the employer, as we have Finnish law and they are going by USA law. This creates differences in views", says shop steward, Timo Pulli from the US owned CP Kelco pulp factory in Äänekoski.

The major change Pulli noticed is the intensified focus on labour safety. "To use helmet and safety glasses become immediately obligatory. Reporting on labour safety has also increased." This has led to a smaller number of work accidents than ever.

Another US owned company is Kotkamills, which runs the Kotka paper factory. Stora Enso sold the factory in 2010 to the OpenGate Capital investment company. Shop steward Ville Ropponen tells the Paperiliitto magazine that the major changes were lay offs of 13 workers immediately and "cutting the umbilical cord to the previous owner in all our actions". In March this year Kotkamills announced the lay off of 45 workers that led to a one-day strike.

The former M-Real pulp factory Savon Sellu in Kuopio has been from 2005 part of the business empire of Irish investor Dermot Smurfit. Shop steward Eero Ahonen sees the major difference since the change in ownership is that profit is kept in focus at all times. This has also meant new investments. "Without a foreign owner Savon Sellu would probably no longer be operating." After 2005 the number of employees has been trimmed down from 260 to 180.

South African Sappi took over the Kirkniemi paper factory in Lohja in 2009. The factory director Martti Savelainen also says that the major change can be seen in labour safety. It receives priority in reporting and at internal meetings, he says. Overall reporting has also grown, but if things are running smoothly, the owner does not interfere in how the factory is run.

Some of the shop stewards raise the issue of language barriers as being a problem. Finnish Ahlstrom and Japanese Nippon Paper Industries jointly own the Kauttua paper factory in Eura. "The Japanese are in charge of everything here", says shop steward Jukka Virta. All the main directors are Japanese. "Co-operation with them has been working quite well, but language problems make it difficult to keep contact."

The new owner has brought fresh investment and production at the Kauttua factory is now more varied than before. "So a small factory such as this would probably not be able to stay alive without the input of Japanese know-how", Virta adds.