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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May, 2005, 16:22 GMT 17:22 UK
Strike shuts Finnish paper mills
Finnish capital Helsinki
Consumers in the Finnish capital Helsinki are hoarding toilet paper
Finns are hoarding toilet rolls as a strike in the paper industry - already in its third week - threatens to go on until the end of June.

Talks over pay and working hours have foundered, and employers have now extended a staff lock-out.

Mill staff want better pay for opening at Christmas and mid-summer, and have so far been offered cash and an 11-hour reduction in annual hours.

The paper industry accounts for one-third of Finland's total exports.

There are fears the strike could have a wider impact on the Finnish economy, and may damage companies that rely on packaging.

Longer lock-out

An 18 May lock-out instituted by paper-mill employers, including Stora Enso and UPM-Kymmene, has closed mills around the country.

The dispute came after weeks of union protests and wildcat strikes.

The most recent attempt at negotiations between unions and employers broke down after a few hours on 25 May. But talks restarted on Monday and Tuesday and will continue at 10am Finnish time on Wednesday morning.

If the mills are to be kept running through Christmas and mid-summer, we want a bigger slice of the growth in productivity
Jouko Ahonen, paper workers' union chairman

Although details of the talks have not been announced, the employers are thought to want to keep paper plants open during Christmas and mid-summer, saying other industries in Finland do not close down for these holidays.

They are also believed to want to limit paid sick leave and to use outside labour.

'A bigger slice'

The Finnish Forest Industries Federation, which represents employers, is offering 1,600 euros and an 11-hour cut in annual hours as compensation for workers who might end up working during Christmas and mid-summer, but the unions want more.

Paivi Turtiainen, a spokeswoman for Paperiliitto, the paper-workers' union, said: "We want to have more leisure time; money is not the point. "The offer of 11 hours is not for every worker, only for those ordered to work Christmas or mid-summer every year. Not for those who do an extra day here or there during those periods."

Paperiliitto chairma Jouko Ahonen said: "If the mills are to be kept running through Christmas and mid-summer, we want a bigger slice of the growth in productivity."

Employers say they cannot reduce hours any further because Finnish paper workers already have among the lowest working hours in Europe.

Finland's paper industry accounts for 8% of gross domestic product (GDP), a measure of economic health, and 15% of the world's total production of paper.

The shutdown will cut GDP growth in 2005 by 0.5 percentage points if it lasts till mid-June, according to the country's finance ministry.

Finland's berry industry has said it could lose up to 80% of sales this summer because of a lack of packaging to put berries in.




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