SEL: Corrections to 21 February 2018 press releases of HKScan and the Finnish Food and Drink Industries’ Federation, ETL

We want to rectify the erroneous statements in the press releases published by HKScan and ETL on 21 February. Based on the allegations in the press releases, it appears that HK’s management in Finland does not even know everything that is happening in their Estonian unit.

We have compiled a list here of the erroneous statements and the corresponding responses of Rakvere plant’s strike committee:

Employer: “HKScan respects the employees right of organisation also in Estonia and adheres to local negotiating practices with official trade unions and their elected representatives.”

Employees: The employer has threatened trade union members and workers with dismissal and blacklisting. Despite numerous requests, the employer has not agreed to negotiate a collective agreement with an elected representative of the employees, even though the national conciliator Meelis Virkebau recommended this in a proposal submitted on 30 November.

“HKScan employs 1,350 people in Estonia, of whom approximately 750 are employed in Rakvere.”

Answer: According to Estonian Tax Office, 1,133 people are employed in HKScan’s Estonian operations. The employer has refused to disclose the number of people employed in Rakvere to the trade union representative despite their requests.

“Around 60 people are trade union members.”

Answer: There are 110 trade union members. On the slaughterhouse line, 30 employees out of a total of 56 belong to the trade union.

“The salaries of employees working on Rakvere’s slaughterhouse line have been increased annually by some six (6) percent between 2013 and 2016.”

Answer: Wages have not risen. Some wages have even fallen. The basic salary has risen, but at the same time, result-based remuneration has been cut. This can be verified by employees’ wage bills.

“The wage development is in line with the wage development of other similar industries.”

Answer: HKScan’s share of the sector’s overall turnover in Estonia is 51 percent. 43 percent of meat workers in Estonia work for HKScan, so it is difficult to compare them with people working for other Estonian operators in the sector.

“The level of earnings of Rakvere’s slaughterhouse line workers is clearly higher (by 19%) than the sector’s general salary level in Estonia.”

Answer: The statements made by the employer concerning the salary level is misleading. In fact, the wages paid to employees have not risen. Instead, in many cases they have fallen, with cuts made to bonuses and monthly variable bonuses paid to employees on top of their basic salary. The gross salary of Rakvere’s slaughterhouse line workers is about 1000 euros a month, with net income of less than 800 euros. In his proposal of 30 November, the national consolidator recommended that the wages of the slaughterhouse line workers be raised to the same level as the average gross monthly wage of the Estonian food industry.

“HKScan additionally offers its employees a number of other benefits that are not widely offered by other companies in the sector (benefits associated with commuting, workplace meals, supported parenting, rehabilitation and physical activity).”

Answer: HKScan does not specify what the above benefits are. The company should inform employees about these benefits better, as many of them have no idea what some of these benefits are. Some of the above advantages, such as supported commuting and parenting, are based on Estonian legislation. The employees can participate in the Rakvere Night Run at a discounted rate. Employees could swim at a discounted rate at 9.00, when they are supposed to be at work.

“Rakvere’s labour dispute negotiations broke down just before Christmas because of the trade union representatives’ decision. Both HKScan and the national conciliator wanted to continue the negotiations.”

Answer: Employees believed that there were no prerequisites for resuming negotiations because the employer proposed nothing other than waiting till April, when salaries and wages would next be considered. This is not negotiation, it is dictation.

“Work in the factory has continued normally, and the ongoing strike has not affected HKScan’s ability to serve its customers in Estonia as agreed.”

Answer: According to the information we have received, the production of the plant has fallen significantly due to the strike. Replacement meat has been imported into the Rakvere plant from the Atria plant in Valga.

“The company adheres to open and fact-based communication and collaboration practices with its staff.”

Answer: The national conciliator recommends the company to review its communication and consultation practices.

“The cooperation committee of HKScan’s Estonian staff and employer started operations on 8 February 2018. The committee comprises 12 people, eight of whom are elected representatives of the staff. In addition to the staff representatives, the committee also includes a representative of the slaughterhouse line’s trade union and Estonian members of the European Works Council (EWC). The committee adheres to recorded principles of cooperation.”

Answer: In the first meeting of the cooperation committee, the chief shop steward was told to call off the strike, which leads the shop steward to believe that the committee was set up to break up the trade union. Employees did not have a real chance to choose who to vote for, because the candidates on the list were selected by the employer. Only two of the committee members represented the production line.

“HKScan reviews wages and other benefits annually and develops the company’s pay system to meet market developments and to support challenge- and performance-based remuneration.”

Answer: The national conciliator believes that the working environment of slaughterhouse workers in the meat industry is different and more challenging than the working environment of the other food industry workers in Estonia. This is not reflected in the wages of slaughterhouse workers.

“The principles of the new pay system will be discussed with the employees in the cooperation committee before putting it into practice.” 

Answer: Anne Mere, managing director of HKScan’s Estonian unit, has announced that the committee is set up for information purposes only. The trade union wants the salaries and other terms of employment to be negotiated with elected members of staff who were put forward by employees themselves.

“According to SEL, Rakvere’s production plant has had 26 slaughterhouse employees on strike since 6 February. The right figure is 21 employees.”

Answer: The strike started on 6 February by 26 employees of the Rakvere unit, but some of them participated only in a three-day support strike. Since then, the number of strikers has been 21, as stated by ETL.

HKScan’s press release “Information on the industrial dispute at Rakvere’s slaughterhouse line in Estonia”, published on 21 February, can be found here in Finnish:

 ETL’s press release “THE FINNISH FOOD AND DRINK INDUSTRIES’ FEDERATION, ETL, CORRECTS MISLEADING INFORMATION CONCERNING HKSCAN’S INDUSTRIAL DISPUTE IN RAKVERE” can be found here in Finnish: /elintarviketeollisuusliitto-oikaisee-virheellisia-tietoja-hkscanin-tyokiistasta-rakveressa.html