Estonia, Finland still at odds over shipping

  • 1999-03-25
TALLINN (BNS) - There seems to be no end to the Finnish - Estonian shipping dispute. While the Estonian Shipping Company is trying to end the boycott against its ships, some predict the conflict may spread to other industries and countries.

The Estonian Shipping Company will appeal to the Supreme Court of Finland to stop a boycott launched by the Finnish Seamen's Union against its ships by March 22. It will also appeal against the Helsinki district court's decision of Feb. 19 not to suspend the boycott.

"We are appealing to the Finnish supreme court to suspend the shipping boycott," Estonian company's Development Director Viktor Palmet said.

Finnish dockers refused to load or unload two Estonian vessels, the Rakvere and the Calibur, early in December. The Finnish union started its action on the grounds that Estonian seamen are not paid as much as their Finnish counterparts.

The shipping company will also file a claim for damages caused by the boycott since the two company's ships were forced to leave the Tallinn-Helsinki-Arhus shipping route. The damages are estimated to be about 20 million kroons ($1.39 million).

Palmet said the company thinks that the Finnish seamen's union has no grounds to demand equal pay for seamen serving on ships sailing under another country's flag.

Representatives of the Estonian Employers and Industry Central Union met March 18 with Finnish employers to try to find a settlement to terminate the boycott.

The parties found that the process of settlement may drag out for a very long period because it has a long prehistory.

Tense labor market relations and their side effects are damaging to both the Estonian and the Finnish sides, participants in the meeting said.

Finnish and Swedish trade unions are demanding not only the raising of Estonian seamen's wages but are also making similar demands on Latvian and Lithuanian shipping companies, the Russian newspaper Izvestiya wrote.

"Unless the pay of Swedish and Lithuanian seamen is equalized, Swedish dockers are threatening to cease servicing vessels running on the Klaipeda-Arhus route," Izvestiya wrote. "If things continue like this, we may soon expect Scandinavian unions' sanctions also against Russian companies based in St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad."

Izvestiya pointed out that Russian seamen and dockers receive far smaller wages than their Baltic colleagues.