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Pulp and paper workers unite in Budapest

The meeting, which took place from 29-30 November, was held at the headquarters of Hungarian trade union affiliate, the Federation of Chemical, Energy and General Workers’ Union (VDSz). Participants analyzed future trends, health and safety, collective bargaining, and digitalization, among several topics.

IndustriALL Assistant General Secretary, Kemal Özkan, emphasized the considerable changes that had taken place in the pulp and paper industry in recent years. While the demand for printed material has fallen, the overall market is growing, particularly in packaging, tissue and pulp.

Gyula Pomázi, Political Secretary at the Hungarian government addressed the opening of the Conference. He argued that the key to the success of the pulp and paper sector is specialist expertise and production, backed by government policies that supported the industry.


“Digitalization and global transformation are having a big effect on the pulp and paper sector in Hungary and workers are turning to unions to represent their issues,” said Tamás Székely, President of host union VDSz.

Globally, the sector is expected to achieve a 3.1 per cent increase in yearly revenue, with a cost reduction of 4.2 per cent per annum – and much of that will be through job losses, said Kemal Özkan.

New pulp and paper plants have a greater capacity to produce more with fewer employees, warned Jon Geenen from Workers Uniting North America:

“The USA has lost 265 corrugated box and sheet plants, even though the packaging industry is growing. Instead there are new facilities with better technology and greater capacity.”

Faced with a domestic decline in newsprint and printed materials, pulp and paper companies in Japan are diversifying and exports are at a record high, said Toshiyuki Hashimoto, Vice President of the Japanese Federation of Pulp and Paper Workers’ Unions – KAMIPA Rengo. The industry is developing new cellulose nanofibre technology that is strong enough to replace carbon fibre.

Peter Schuld from German affiliate, IGBCE, said digitalization, or Industry 4.0, would require Work 4.0, warning that workers must be qualified to meet new requirements and accept life-long learning.

Health and safety

Occupational health and safety in the pulp and paper sector was of key concern at the Conference. Leeann Foster, United Steelworkers (USW) Assistant to the International President and IndustriALL Co-Chair of the sector, said her union is working to find the causes of the high number of fatalities in the US, which average seven deaths a year. Pulp and paper is the largest sector at USW, which has 600 bargaining units representing 70 per cent of workers.

Brian Kohler, IndustriALL Director for Health, Safety and Sustainability, urged participants not to focus solely on the fatalities that result from sudden and violent accidents, but also on health impacts resulting in occupational diseases. For every worker that is killed in an occupational accident, four workers die of an occupational disease, often unrecognized. He also urged delegates to look at health and safety as a matter of basic workers’ rights and to take an uncompromising activist stance in demanding them.

Denise Campbell-Burns, CFMEU Forestry and Furnishing Products, said complementary therapies provided by some companies are designed to make sure employees are work-ready all the time, rather than looking at occupational health and safety in the workplace, and that not enough is being done to remove hazards at source.

As part of the action plan, participants at the Conference agreed to take a series of actions to raise awareness of safety, share data, and recognize that health and safety is the strongest organizing tool available.


While the pulp and paper sector is potentially very sustainable, it is not without its problems. Following an appeal from Brazilian union, CNQ/CUT, the Conference resolved to investigate into the scientific implications of new technologies such as transgenic eucalyptus trees in forestry production. The Brazilian government recently gave permission to plant the genetically-modified eucalyptus trees, which are resistant to powerful herbicides. The affects of the herbicides entering the product, the environment, and on the workers in the industry itself, are unknown.

Defending workers’ rights

The Conference expressed its support for the struggles of trade unions in Latin America, with new anti-union legislation in countries such as Brazil making it harder to organize and bargain collectively. Furthermore, trade unionists in countries such as Colombia are paying for their activities with their lives.

More work will be done to improve women and youth representation in activities and meetings of the sector, as well as to continue to map and prioritize the specific issues facing these groups. The Conference heard of the success of Indonesian affiliate FSP2KI in organizing precarious women workers in the sector. Rosalina Silva from CNQ-CUT called for gender issues to be included in collective agreements in the sector.

The Conference also demonstrated strong support for IndustriALL’s Pledge entitled “Violence and harassment against women: Not in our union, not in our workplace.” Participants were encouraged to take the pledge back to their unions for endorsement.

Building union power

Tom Grinter, IndustriALL’s Industry and Research Officer, gave an extensive presentation about the global overview of pulp, paper and board and packaging industries as well as the actions taken since the last World Conference in November 2012 towards building union power in the sector through global framework agreements, company networks and solidarity actions. 

As part of the action plan, IndustriALL’s pulp and paper sector will seek to continue to build union power, strengthening existing networks at CMPC, Sappi, IP, Smurfit Kappa and Mondi, and set up global trade union networks at WestRock, Amcor and DS Smith together with UNI Global Union. IndustriALL will also work closely with sister global unions BWI and UNI to help organizing in the supply chain from forestry, to pulp and paper, and to graphical.

As well as continuing the existing regional networks in Latin America and South East Asia, the Pulp and Paper Sector will put a special effort in building union power in Eastern Europe with continuation of its work supporting affiliates in Hungary, Poland, Russia and elsewhere in the area.

Delegates unanimously re-elected Leeann Foster and elected Matts Jutterström, President of Pappers Sweden, as Co-Chairs of the sector at IndustriALL.

The day before the Conference, many participants toured the Dunapack corrugated packaging company on the outskirts of Budapest, which supplies major multinationals in the region, such as IKEA and Unilever.

In summing up after the two-day conference, IndustriALL Assistant General Secretary, Kemal Özkan, said:

“As the pulp and paper sector expands and evolves, we have to increase our cooperation to make sure that workers do not get left behind. All workers are affected digitalization and health and safety, and trade unions must be ready to defend and promote the interests of their members. We have identified the challenges, now we have a comprehensive action plan from which to go forward.”

Read the Action Plan here.

Following the conference, IndustriALL paid a solidarity visit to a chemical company, BorsodChem, a Chinese investment in the North of Hungary. IndustriALL met with the company management and trade union representatives to discuss labour relations at the plant where around 3,000 people are employed with high union density with VDSz.


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