Swedish Labour Law and the European Union

By Helmers, Reinhard | Contemporary Review, May 2000 | Go to article overview

Swedish Labour Law and the European Union


Helmers, Reinhard, Contemporary Review


WHEN Sweden was going to join the EU, the Swedish Labour Law had to be ad to the rules laid down in the EC-Treaty and several judgements of the European Court of Justice concerning labour relations. Contrary to the Labour Law of continental Europe, Swedish Labour Law is not based on the rights of the individual employee, the worker or citoyen, but presumes minor subjects without judicial capacity. Legal party is almost entirely the narrow leadership of each union. Collective contracts or decisions to go on strike are never legitimated by democratic decisions or polls of the members. Only approximately five per cent of the members participate in the elections of their leadership, these often already being the previous leaders and their close, favoured friends.

Criticism by individual members is effectively suppressed at such meetings and the union press is controlled by the leadership. On the labour market, the unions possess a monopoly, e.g. by controlling the unemployment funds. Sweden has no unemployment insurance run by the State.

In cases where individual employees are in conflict with their employers, the support by the union is dependent on the arbitrariness of its leaders. They have signed the contracts; the individual member is by procedural law discriminated against. The Labour Court is composed of union leaders and representatives of the employers association -- a typical corporative construction. While the union leadership can approach the Labour Court directly, the unsupported member must first pass the District Court and is charged with the high legal costs. Such members -- like unorganised employees -- are from the beginning stigmatised without a reasonable chance of winning in court.

One of the monopolist unions, the syndicate of academicians, SACO, denies its members even the protection against notorious violations of Human Rights by the State. Members of foreign origin cannot expect support from a xenophobic leadership. Employees who are not members of the union are not even entitled to claim the fulfilment of a contract. Such conditions on the labour market and in the unions favour discrimination against minorities, such as persons with foreign origin, women, dissidents and political nonconformists. In reality, a system of 'closed shops' with integrated discrimination rules the Swedish labour market.

According to the judgement of 25 Apr11 1996 of the European Court of Human Rights (Gustafsson/Sweden), the Swedish Government admitted their severe violation of Community Law namely that employees not being union members are discriminated against in Sweden. The Minister, Bjorn Rosengren, a former white-collar union leader, admitted publicly on 25 February 1999 that persons merely with foreign names are systematically discriminated against in the labour market.

This systematic 'salary discrimination' against employees with foreign origin was investigated and proved by sociologists of Stockholm University. (See Carl le Grand & Ryszard Szulkin: 'Invandrarnas L[ddot{o}]ner i Sverige', Arbetsmarknad & Arbetsliv, Nr.2/1999, S.89 -- 110).

The Swedish press mentioned an OECD-report, according to which the employees in the Swedish Public Service enjoy the lowest employment security of all fifteen OECD-States. Eighty-five per cent of all Swedish public servants as opposed to twenty-four per cent of their Italian colleagues, consider their employment as insecure. This result reflects the ruling arbitrariness in labour relations and the paltriness of the unions as counterpart to the State as employer.

When negotiating with the EU, the Swedish Government, however, pretended that those legal conditions against discrimination which are stated by Community Law and the legal provisions of the other Member States were already granted by the unions and did not need to be legislated in Sweden. However, this is obviously not the case.

Simultaneously with the negotiations, the Government introduced into their Public Service the salary discrimination as a Labour Law principle which they call an 'individual salary system'. …

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