Finland’s Port Strike Continues as Talks Breakdown and Trade is Halted

Finland port strike
Finland's Vuosaari port employs a quarter of the striking stevedores (Port of Helsinki)

Published Feb 20, 2023 2:51 PM by The Maritime Executive

Talks to settle strikes impacting Finland’s ports and trucker drivers broke off meaning that it is likely the strikes will stretch into a second week as foreign trade is largely stopped and industrial companies begin to fear disruptions to their production. The union has already widened the strike to include drivers that provide municipal services while reporting it could be extended as of March 1 to bus drivers, more parts of the trucking industry and its maintenance staff, and the oil products industry. Separate reports said postal employees have also staged a sympathy strike. 

Union leaders reported that they were breaking off talks for the ports on Sunday saying that the employers’ representative had only offered a small increase in wages over the previous offer. They said that the offer still fails to keep pace with inflation which was running at over nine percent and did not address other issues related to working conditions. Efforts to find an agreement included involving Leo Suomaa, the retired Director General of the Department for Work and Gender Equality, who is currently serving as a mediator for the European Labour Authority.

The strike is impacting all of Finland’s major seaports. Reports are that traffic has come to halt at the nine seaports. Last week, Maersk said that it would be diverting all ships planned for stops in Finland’s ports. According to the union, of the approximately 2,000 stevedores on strike in Finland, approximately one in four works in the port of Vuosaari and is a member of Helsinki stevedores.

The chief executive of the Finnish Port Operators’ Association, Juha Mutru, confirmed to the Helsinki Times on Sunday that the settlement proposal only addressed the question of pay rises. He said they had increased the offer to approach the six percent being offered in other industries and that the employers were unlikely to approve larger raises. He also confirmed that the talks had centered only on the pay issues.

The Finnish Transport Workers’ Union (AKT) on Monday said that it had also broken off talks regarding drivers working in road transport, tankers, and oil products due to the same issues as the dockworkers. The strike began last Wednesday but has not extended to cover additional segments of drivers. The strike began on February 15 with the next round of negotiations scheduled for Wednesday, February 22.

The union also hit back at its critics saying that the employers had stalled the talks and if they had proceeded as scheduled, they could have been concluded before now. They said while it is true that exports are stalled that the goods would reach their destinations, just later than planned. “The goods just get there more slowly,” the union said defending its actions.

The Finnish public broadcasting company YLE reported last week that the strikes have also impacted everything from can and bottle recycling machines, to the transfer of media between libraries, the availability of gasoline at service stations, waste management services, and raw material availability at manufacturing sites. So far, the country’s steel manufacturers are not reporting an impact on their operations but they are raising concerns over raw materials if the strikes continue.

The union is saying that the strike at the ports will continue until an agreement is reached, but the drivers’ strike is scheduled to stop on February 22. However, the union has already served notice that it would resume those actions as well as launching additional strikes for terminal operations and for bus drivers the following week.