Employers praise unusual agreement for energy enterprises

On 1 January 1998 a new collective agreement for 15,000 employees in Swedish energy enterprises came into force. It is unusual in several respects: employers and company trade union branches are authorised to deviate from all of its provisions, and it has no rules on temporary employment contracts. This means that unions which earlier objected to 1997's modifications of the Employment Security Act have now accepted them.

An unusual collective agreement has been concluded between the Swedish Energy Employers' Association (Energiföretagens Arbetsgivareförening, EFA) on the one hand, and the Association of Graduate Engineers (Civilingenjörsförbundet, CF), the Swedish Union for Technical and Clerical Employees in Industry and Services (Svenska Industritjänstemannaförbundet SIF), the Association of Management and Professional Staff (Ledarna) and the Union of Service and Communication (SEKO) on the other. The agreement, which came into force on 1 January 1998, regulates general terms of employment for around 15,000 workers in private energy enterprises and in the state-owned Vattenfall group. The agreement fulfils many of the current requirements put forward by employers, and the managing director of EFA, Björn Tibell, calls it "pioneering".

Not unique, but still very unusual is the fact that the white-collar unions, CF, SIF and Ledarna, and the blue-collar union, SEKO, have signed one common agreement, with identical provisions for all workers in the energy enterprises covered by the agreement.

More importantly, and quite unique, is that all of the agreement's material provisions are optional. Employers and company trade union branches are authorised to deviate from them all by means of local collective agreements. The local agreements are however not valid until they are approved by the central trade union.

The agreement also complies with the employers' wish to avoid any other restrictions for hiring workers on temporary contracts than those included in the Employment Security Act. The agreement contains no rules limiting the employers' freedom on this point, which means that last year's modifications of the Act, which met with fierce criticism from the trade unions (SE9711155F), will have full effect in the companies covered by the agreement.

"If the trade unions contribute to the conclusion of agreements of this kind, collective agreements will continue to play an essential role on Sweden's labour market in the future," says Mr Tibell of EFA.

The new agreement does not regulate wages, and the wage negotiations for energy enterprises will start in March 1998.

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