Sweden: Latest working life developments – Q2 2017

Continued conflict at the Port of Gothenburg and an increase in sick leave due to mental ill-health in the workplace are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Sweden in the second quarter of 2017.

Port of Gothenburg conflict continues

A long-standing conflict at the Port of Gothenburg between trade unions and the social partners , the largest port in Scandinavia, reached new levels of intensity in the second quarter of 2017. For more than a year, APM Terminals, the company that owns the Port of Gothenburg and around 70 other ports and terminals worldwide, and the Swedish Dockworkers’ Union (SDU) have failed to reach an agreement on a number of important issues. These include employment conditions, working environment and union representation. Mediators were appointed in the autumn of 2016 but so far have made little progress.

The issue is complicated by the fact that APM Terminals already has a collective agreement with the Swedish Transport Workers’ Union but not with the SDU, and yet the SDU organises around 85% of the port’s workers. While the SDU demands its own collective agreement, APM Terminals will only agree to an extension (hängavtal) of the existing agreement with the Swedish Transport Workers’ Union. The SDU has organised several strikes in the past year and on 19 May 2017 stopped all overtime work and the recruitment of new port staff. In response, APM Terminals introduced an evening lockout of employees whereby no services would operate at night. Both the blockade and the lockout were lifted on 30 June.

According to APM Terminals, the long drawn-out conflict has resulted in severe revenue losses as many shipping companies have had to divert to other ports and terminals. In June, the company announced that because of these losses, around 160 of the port’s 450 employees will have to be dismissed, a decision which has greatly upset the union. The Swedish government has also decided to set up an official inquiry into whether it would be possible and appropriate to limit the right to industrial action. Ylva Johansson, Minister of Employment, has said that the main incentive for companies to sign a collective agreement is to avoid collective industrial action, and it could undermine the Swedish labour market model if employers still risk conflict even though they have an agreement in place.

Work-related mental ill-health increases

According to a new report by the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (PDF) that looks at the development of sick leave between 2011 and 2016, psychiatric diagnoses have become the most common reason for sick leave. Furthermore, the report reveals that sick leave due to a psychiatric diagnosis is, on average, 70% longer than for all other causes of sick leave. The risk of possible relapse and the need for further sick leave is 22% higher for those with such diagnoses. The greatest increases have been in the diagnosis of 'mild’ mental health disorders, such as adjustment disorder (whereby an individual is unable to adjust to or cope with a particular stress or a major life event) and reactions to severe levels of stress. The increase in mental health-related sick leave has been highest in the healthcare sector, with an incidence of 147 diagnoses of mental ill-health per 1,000 employees.

The results are in line with another recent report published by the Swedish Work Environment Authority (PDF) which shows more than one in three reports of work-related diseases were due to ‘organisational or social factors’. Since 2011, these types of reports have increased by 91%. This increase could reflect an increase in reporting rather than an increase in the number of cases of work-related diseases. However, the Chair of the Swedish Association of Health Professionals, Sineva Ribeiro, reports that members’ working conditions have deteriorated significantly over the last few years and this could explain the increase in ill-health.

Commentary

While the collective actions imposed by both parties in the port of Gothenburg conflict have been lifted, there is no sign of any upcoming resolution to the dispute. The parties have reached a stalemate and the mediators appointed by the Swedish Mediation Office have stated that there is no solution in sight and have asked to be relieved from their mission

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