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12 July 2018

Sweden: social partners agree on limits to solidarity strikes if the peace obligation applies

Sweden’s social partners have formulated a joint legislative proposal that could limit the right to take solidarity action in workplaces already covered by a collective agreement. The proposal was the result of intense negotiations that began after the government announced an inquiry aiming to lead to legislative measures.

The social partners have concluded an agreement that can lead to a limit on the right to take solidarity action. In Sweden, trade unions are bound by a peace clause. However, the right to take solidarity action gives unions an opportunity to call a strike even if a collective agreement has been signed. In principle, the right to take solidarity action has meant that trade unions and workers had the right to support and co-strike with another group of workers taking industrial action, even if their own organisation was not directly involved in the dispute. In recent years, employer organisations have campaigned for stricter regulation of the right to take sympathy action, while trade unions viewed it as a fundamental part of Sweden’s industrial relations model. Their critics argued that solidarity action, such as sympathy strikes, is not a proportional response to a conflict between social partners.

The agreed legislative proposal concluded by the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise and the trade union confederations LO, TCO and Saco, starts from the presumption that employers who have signed a collective agreement should be able to trust that the peace obligation stands. Observers see the deal as a result of the usual pattern in the labour market: the negotiations take place in the shadow of the law. Normally, when the government ‘threatens’ to legislate on issues that are central to the autonomy of the social partners, they tend to agree on a solution at the last moment. One year ago, the Minister for Employment had launched an inquiry into the legislation covering the right to take industrial action, in response to a conflict at the Port of Gothenburg. That conflict has initiated a debate that could cause fundamental changes to the entire labour market model.

The joint agreement was presented on 5th June to the Minister for Employment. The joint legislative proposal of the social partners will make it illegal to take industrial action against an employer which is already bound by a collective agreement, if the action’s objective is not to achieve a collective agreement involving a peace obligation. Trade unions must also have negotiated on all demands put forward by the employer before calling for industrial action. Demands that a future agreement should be applied instead of the collective agreement that the employer is already bound by are not allowed. Moreover, organisations without collective agreements will not be allowed to use industrial action during disputes. It will be up to the Labour Court to decide whether a strike is legal or not.

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