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1 March 2013

Swedish Trade Unions Restrictions to Strike Violates ILO Conventions

In 2004 a group of Latvian workers were hired by a Latvian subcontractor Laval un Paterni to build a school for the municipality in the small Swedish town of Vaxholm. The subcontractor refused to sign a collective agreement with the Swedish Building workers Union “Byggnads”, a BWI affiliate. To get Laval to sign a collective agreement Byggnads decided on a blockade against the company, backed up by the Swedish Electricians' Union. As a response Laval brought the case to the Labour Court which with guidance from the European Court of Justice decided that the blockade was unlawful and Byggnads and SEF had to pay damage compensation to Laval.

Following this the Swedish government implemented new restrictions that limit trade unions to take industrial action in order to convince foreign companies posting workers in Sweden to sign collective agreements.

Collective agreements play a crucial role in ensuring workers' rights in Sweden. For example there is no legislation on minimum wage and without a collective agreement an employer can pay as low a salary as possible as long as the worker agrees. The new regulations have therefore been strongly criticized by both Swedish and international trade unions who claim that the new law threatens the “Swedish Model”, where the social partners negotiate labour regulations themselves and where only fundamental standards are laid down in legislation.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) agreed with the Swedish trade unions. Recently, the ILO Committee of Experts in its Annual Report called on the Swedish government to review the legislation. The ILO states that the government must ensure that trade unions “are not restricted in their rights simply because of the nationality of the enterprise”. The Committee states that the limitations of the union's rights to industrial action violate the ILO Convention 87 on the freedom of association and the right to organize.

“The recent ILO report confirms what we have said from the beginning, the Swedish government’s attempt to restrict trade unions from taking industrial action to sign collective agreements is not only against international standards but a violation of workers’ rights,” stated Ambet Yuson, General Secretary of BWI. He continued, “As requested by the ILO the Swedish government has to review these regulations to ensure basic labour standards for all workers in the country. Migrant workers must have the same opportunities to be covered by Swedish collective agreements as their Swedish workers.