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Finnish trade union: HKScan must begin negotiations with strikers

Union representatives ahead of failed talks with HKScan management on Thursday. Feb. 1, 2018.
Union representatives ahead of failed talks with HKScan management on Thursday. Feb. 1, 2018. Source: (Rene Kundla/ERR)

Henri Lindholm, secretary general of the Finnish Food Workers' Union SEL, said that Finnish food group HKScan must begin negotiations with the striking slaughter line employees of the HKScan Estonia-owned Rakvere Meat Processing Plant.

"We are encouraging HKScan to negotiate with its employees," Lindholm, who is also the representative of the Finnish HKScan trade union, told reporters on Friday. "At the same time, we are of course also holding a dialogue with the company in Finland and trying to find a constructive role here. We hope that we are able to restart negotiations."

Lindholm said that the European Union Charter and the International Labour Organization Convention very clearly stipulate the freedom to form a trade union, be a member of it and sign a collective agreement.

"It cannot be a sustainable business model for any Finnish or Western company to come to Estonia for cheap labor," Lindholm said, reaffirming that the ongoing events ongoing at the Rakvere plant are being very closely monitored in Finland.

According to Estonian Trade Union Confederation (EAKL) secretary Artjom Arhangelski, HKScan's Estonian subsidiary has also forwarded misleading information to the parent company implying that it is necessary for at least 50 percent of the company's employees to belong to a trade union in order to form one in Estonia.

Arhangelski said that HKScan does not wish to increase the strikers' wages, as the company fears that employees from other departments may then come forward with their own wage claims.

"We are currently collecting wage claims from various departments and will push this into action," he said.

Wage dispute nearly five months old

The wage dispute at Rakvere Meat Processing Plant began on Oct. 17, when 27 slaughterhouse employees staged an illegal strike, resulting in the dismissal of three employees. The employees said they were protesting against poor working conditions as well as the stagnation of wages, which have not been raised for the past ten years.

The workers then referred the dispute to the public conciliator, who was unable to reconcile the two parties.

The slaughter line employees of Rakvere Meat Processing plant are demanding a base wage hike of 16 percent as of Feb. 1 and a second 16-percent hike as of July 1. Also demanded in the strike announcement sent to the employer by the unions on Jan. 19 is that the employer not make changes to the way incentive pay is calculated.

According to the unions, this would mean an increase in the workers' base hourly wage to €4.34 as of Feb. 1 and €5.03 as of July 1. Based on the unions' calculations, this should increase slaughter line employees' average monthly wages to €1,079 as of Feb. 1 and €1,195 as of July 1.

HKScan Estonia, meanwhile, announced that they have decided to increase the entire company's payroll by five percent in the second quarter.

Employees of the plant began an open-ended strike on Tuesday, Feb. 6 after a final attempt at talks on Feb. 1 failed.

HKScan Group is a Nordic meat producer which produces and markets pork, beef, poultry, mutton, processed meat as well as ready-made food. While it saw €1.8 billion on revenue, the company posted a loss of €18 million last year. HKScan Group also includes HKScan Estonia, which in turn owns Rakvere Meat Processing Plant and poultry producer Tallegg.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

Source: BNS, ERR

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