Dockers strike set to shut down Finland ports.
FINNISH dock workers have launched an all-out strike from 0600 hrs this morning, in a move that seems set to shut down the country"s ports indefinitely.
The dispute, involving around 3,400 members of Finland"s transport union, is centred on the issue of severance pay for those who lose their jobs as a result of budget cuts. Talks with employers have broken down, with no date currently set for a resumption.
Among the companies already suffering is marine engine manufacturer Wärtsilä, which has told the local media that its plant at Vaasa could run out of raw materials and components in as little as a week. Vaasa is one of five factories worldwide building ship engines for the Helsinki-based outfit.
Stora Enso, Europe"s biggest papermaker and another major shipper, has 450 rail cars loaded with its products stuck at a port. Meanwhile, there are fears that shops will quickly run out of perishable foodstuffs, which are largely imported.
Viking Line ferry services are said to be unaffected, while facilities such as Neste Oil"s two oil terminals and a port owned by leading construction and engineering components supplier Rautaruukki continue to operate as their dockers are not in the transport union.
Early indications are that the stoppage will have a dramatic impact across the local economy, which has experienced its worst slump since the 1918 civil war. Finland"s main employer organisation predicts that the action will cost ?280m ($382m) a day in lost imports and exports.
Finland"s 24 ports, which service about 100 ships a day, saw a 20% fall in traffic last year on account of the global economic downturn. The economy as a whole shrunk 7.8% in 2009, the worst annual decline for 90 years.
The dockers" walkout - initially planned for February, but suspended on government orders - follows a one-day strike by 10,000 transport workers, represented by the same union, which ended on Wednesday when drivers received a pay increase.
Some businesses are reportedly winding down output as they run out of storage capacity and have no way of getting their goods to the buyers. Others are diverting their output to foreign ports, according to Jari Forss, director at the Finnish Forest Industries Federation.
Markku Mylly, managing director of the Helsinki-based Finnish Port Association, said: ?It is disastrous. It is like stabbing ports in the back.?
Lauri Uotila, chief economist in Helsinki at Danske Bank-affiliated Sampo Bank, a unit of Danske Bank, added: ?A week"s strike would show in the first-quarter gross domestic product. It is a hard hit during a time like this.?
Finland is one of the most strike-prone countries in Europe, lagging behind only Spain, France and Italy, according to the European Union"s statistics office. Strikes cost Finland an average 71 working days per 1,000 workers each year between 2000 and 2007, compared with 137 for Spain and 83 for Italy. Neighbouring Sweden lost just 20 person-days a year.
The last nationwide dock strike in Finland took place in 1991, and lasted for four weeks. However, dockers at the southern port of Kotka - a major transit point for goods to and from Russia and wood processing industry exports - have a reputation for militancy and have staged several local strikes.