British Firm Settles Mill Standoff

ST. PETERSBURG -- A British company has reached an agreement with workers at the Vyborg Pulp and Paper Mill, ending a 21-month standoff with workers who barricaded themselves in the plant out of fear of layoffs.

About 100 guards working for owner Alcem U.K. Ltd. entered the plant in the Leningrad region at approximately 9 p.m. Sunday, a day after Alcem signed a deal. Trade union head Pavel Privalov said the deal was supported by about 1,900 workers, but rejected by at least 100.

The handover process was "calm and without problems," he said.

Privalov said the guards asked a small group of workers still striking against the company to leave. About 200 guards have been assigned by the company to the plant, he said.

The agreement comes three months after a violent confrontation between workers and the local Justice Ministry in which two workers were shot.

In 1997, the state-owned plant was purchased by Cyprus-based Nimonor Investment Ltd., which later sold it to British-based Alcem. But the workers elected their own director and refused to let the new owners in.

In mid-October, armed officers in black ski masks from the regional Justice Ministry's Typhoon unit unsuccessfully tried to seize the facility.

The workers feared layoffs and said that Alcem was planning to turn the paper mill into a plywood factory, which would require fewer workers.

Privalov said Alcem had agreed to employ 2,500 workers, each of whom will get an advance payment of 1,000 rubles (about $35) and monthly average wages of about 2,500 rubles (about $89). Alcem officials could not be reached.