Finland port unions call for national strike.
FINLAND is facing a total stop on imports and exports that could lose the country up to ?160m ($223m) per day.
A union representing over 3,000 staff across all the country"s port operators has called for strike action in two weeks unless a collective agreement on redundancy conditions can be agreed.
The Finnish Transport Workers" Union, AKT, has been locked in talks with the Finnish Port Operators" Association over a number of issues, of which the amount of redundancy support for staff is the most contentious.
The union is calling on the ports to create a collective fund to support sacked workers for up to a year after their employment ends, rather than a previously agreed six months.
A state-appointed arbitrator has been called in to help resolve the key issues and to avert a nationwide strike, which could start on the morning of February 19.
Sporadic small scale strikes have already been reported in a number of key ports including Helsinki, Turku, Kokkola, Kotka and Hanko.
FPOA managing director Juha Mutru said the Finnish ports could not handle the extra burden being asked of them by AKT at a time when they had seen revenues slashed by over 30%.
He said the demands of the union were unreasonable as the main points under discussion had never been settled under the terms of the collective agreement and the port workers were already well cared for by the employees.
The impact of closing 40 port operators in 25 harbours around Finland would be disastrous for the country, he said.
?Finland is a little bit like an island. Ninety per cent of our export and 70% of our imports comes through our harbours. This strike would close foreign trade for the whole country,? he said. ?Trade incomes are currently about ?160m a day, so one day of strikes in all the harbours would a huge loss to the Finnish society.?
The ports have two weeks to resolve the issues, although under Finnish law the minister of labour has the possibility of ordering the the unions to postpone their proposed strike action for a further two weeks.
Mr Mutra said there have not been a huge number of redundancies in the ports during the economic downturn, which has hit Finland badly.
The ports had used ?soft methods? to cuts costs, he said, employing different strategies to adjust working hours and overtime structure. There have only been a few dozen port workers sacked to date. There are however current negotiations within one of the larger operators, Steveco, where a possible 100 redundancies could be announced in a few weeks time.
Steveco has operations in Helsinki, Kotka and other ports on the southern coast of Finland towards Russia. Union members within the company have already announced an overtime ban and stopped work for one day already.