On June 5, the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise together with the trade union confederations the LO (blue-collar workers), TCO and Saco (white-collar workers), presented a joint proposal to limit the workers' rights to take industrial action in workplaces already covered by a CBA. The move by the employers and the official union bureaucrasy was motivated by the fact that the Swedish Social Democratic Government has appointed a commission of inquiry to restrict the right to strike, that will submit its proposals on June 20th.
In an effort to frustrate the state inquiry and "prevent even worse consequences", the proposal this week means that the main trade union confederations that hold most national CBAs in Sweden have agreed to legislative concessions that will immediately affect independent unions like the Swedish Dockworkers' Union. All long-term implications are not yet clear, but the agreement also means a significant shift of power to the employers' benefit in the labour market as a whole.
Brief analysis of the central organizations' proposals
- It would not be possible to strike for anything other than to achieve a CBA with full no-strike clause, if there is already an existing CBA in the workplace.
- Expanded opportunities for the employer to postpone or stop strikes by letting the Labor Court decide whether the strike is legal or not.
- It is unclear whether a trade union without a CBA can fight for a better agreement or shared full CBA stakeholder status, if there is already an existing CBA at the workplace. If all other unions are refered to so called second-hand copies of the first CBA signed at a workplace, the historic deal this week will have opened up the Swedish labour market to CBA shopping practices. That could start a race to the bottom between unions within the confederations in certain industries as well as the introduction of yellow unions controlled by the employer.
If this proposal becomes reality, which is very likely as it was welcomed by most right-wing parties and the Social Democratic government, it may in practice mean that employers can choose which trade union they want to sign a CBA with. This choice can then be made without regard to membership and representativeness in the company or industry in question. The employers can do so either by swapping employers' organization to access a cheaper deal or by signing an agreement with an employer-friendly union from the outset. There would be no incentives for employers to sign agreements with several unions in case there are more than one strong union in the same work field or workplace, as they can easily refer them to pointless second-hand agreements. This law risks making it impossible to require primary negotiation status from the employer if there is already a CBA in the workplace.
However the whole legislation seems to have been established in a state of panic and is, including preparatory papers and instructions for legal interpretation of the new paragraphs, only 7 pages long. Thus, many questions are still unanswered and it is still unclear what it would mean for the SDU and the broader union movement. The worst case scenario is threatening enough, though: The freedom to associate as well as to organize freely in practice may well be abolished in the Swedish labour market once the law is implemented.
The Swedish Dockworkers Union will now analyze if the proposal presented by the main trade union confederations and the national employers' organisation is in line with Sweden's commitments to ILO conventions and European legislation. We will also analyze how our own union will be affected if this proposal becomes reality and if changes are necessary to the way the union operates and fights today. We estimate that new legislation may be in place at the earliest in the beginning of next year, as the process will be extended by parliamentary elections this autumn.