Electricians' dispute resolved

In late June 2003, a new collective agreement for 2003-4 was signed for Sweden's 18,000 electricians. The settlement followed industrial action by the Swedish Electricians' Union (SEF) and was enabled by the intervention of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO).

On 30 June 2003, a new collective agreement for electricians was concluded by the Swedish Electricians' Union (Svenska Elektrikerförbundet, SEF) and the Swedish Electric Contractors' Association (Svenska Elektriska Installatörsorganisationen, EIO), ending several months of negotiations, mediation and industrial action. SEF had cancelled the previous collective agreement a year in advance, as permitted by the agreement, and presented a list of 29 demands to the employers. The most important of the demands related to decreasing stress in the building sector, where electricians are reportedly being given less and less time to perform their work, which occurs towards the end of the building process. EIO immediately rejected the union's demands. Mediators were called in and drew up a proposal that was rejected by SEF in late April 2003. The negotiations seemed to have reached a deadlock .

On 13 May 2003, 140 electricians working on 12 major building sites went on strike, and on 22 May an overtime ban was introduced for all 18,000 SEF members across the country. On 20 June, the chair of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (Svenska Landsorganisationen, LO), Wanja Lundby-Wedin, asked SEF (an LO affiliate) to withdraw its demands related to arduous working conditions and time pressure in the building sector, suggesting that LO should take over the issue and hold special talks with building industry employers in autumn 2003. If these talks fail, she promised to make the issue the a priority in the next major bargaining round in 2004. Ms Lundby-Wedin's stated rationale for this intervention - which was highly unusual in terms of Swedish trade union affairs - was that: 'Pressure in working life is not a problem for the electricians only. It is an issue for all building workers. The electricians' trade union cannot drive forward working environment issues alone. Furthermore, its demands appeared very challenging for the employers and the conflict could have hurt all unions in LO in the long run' (in the words of the LO chair at a press conference).

The LO intervention allowed the stress issue to be referred to a higher level and on 26 June the mediators invited SEF and EIO to final talks, which led to the conclusion of a new collective agreement on 30 June. The content of the new agreement (Installationsavtalet 2003-4), which runs from 13 May 2003 until 31 March 2004, is not very different from the previous agreement signed in 2001, as EIO pointed out when the new deal was concluded. The provisions on pay and other remuneration issues for 2003-4 are in line with those in the old agreement. However, the new accord provides that the parties will try to resolve the issue of working time pressure through a joint working group which should present proposals before the agreement expires in 2004. SEF expressed satisfaction with this provision, as it did with the introduction of an individual entitlement to two days' unpaid leave for personal needs per year.

Sweden's largest-scale industrial action in spring 2003 was the pay dispute in the municipal sector (SE0306103F). During this dispute, SEF gave notice of industrial action by 3,000 electricians in the municipal sector, which was not expressed explicitly as sympathy action with the municipal workers, but was regarded as such. The threatened action did not take place, because the municipal workers' dispute was settled. Similarly, in the electricians' dispute, trade unions representing building workers and painters gave notice of sympathy action, but the dispute was resolved before this could occur.

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