Bus drivers reach new agreement after strike

During the first two weeks of July 2008, about 6,000 bus drivers in Sweden went on strike, demanding better working conditions – particularly regarding working hours – and higher wages for the 14,000 bus drivers affected by recent negotiations. The strike ended mid July when a new three-year agreement was reached. The general public was greatly inconvenienced by the strike, with up to 250,000 commuters and other passengers left stranded during the conflict.

Background

Bus drivers in Sweden have been dissatisfied with their pay and working conditions for some time. Negotiations in this regard between the Municipal Workers’ Union (Svenska Kommunalarbetareförbundet, Kommunal) and the Bus and Coach Employers’ Association (Bussarbetsgivarna, BuA) broke down in June 2008 and mediators were thus brought in to help resolve the conflict. The mediators’ proposal was not accepted however and Kommunal issued a strike notice. As in the case of the nurses’ strike (SE0805039I) earlier in 2008, the strike by bus drivers inconvenienced the public to a large extent. Nevertheless, unlike the nurses’ protest – and contrary to the bus drivers’ strike of 1999 (SE9902144N, SE9903149N) – the bus drivers went on strike only in two regions of the country rather than on a national scale.

The first week of the strike took place only in the capital city, Stockholm, while the second week also affected the Västerbotten region of northeastern Sweden. If it had continued for a third week, the strike would have been extended substantially. However, the protest action ended on 16 July 2008 just before the third wave broke out, resulting in a new agreement between both sides for the next three years.

The strike left many passengers stranded, who were forced to find alternative ways of reaching their destinations. Media claims estimate that as many as 250,000 commuters were dependent on bus services.

Main issues of conflict

Working conditions, and in particular working hours, were a central part of the conflict. The bus drivers want to see less so-called ‘frame time’ (ramtid), which regulates how long the working day can be, including midday breaks or other breaks. Frame time amounted to 13.5 hours before the strike. However, the drivers demanded that this should be reduced to 13 hours, which the employers agreed to after one week of strike action.

Furthermore, the bus drivers were dissatisfied with the rules regarding daily rest. The amount of daily rest has, although with many exceptions, been regulated to 11 hours. Kommunal requested that many of the provisions allowing for exceptions to the rule should be abolished. Under the old agreement, the employer could introduce three exceptions to the rule a week, reducing the amount of daily rest to only nine hours. Such rules proved highly unpopular among the bus drivers and thus the latter provision has been removed from the new agreement.

The pay increase demanded by Kommunal was substantially higher than the average increase agreed by the social partners. Nonetheless, two weeks of strike activity did not greatly augment the wage level. Bus drivers are relatively well paid compared with other blue-collar workers, according to BuA. The agreed 10.4% pay rise includes retirement pay increases.

In Sweden, collective agreements take precedence over the law. The bus drivers’ collective agreements provided for a poorer employment protection than the law, which states that it is sufficient to have two years of employment within a five-year period in order to gain a permanent employment contract. Kommunal wanted to rectify this situation, to which the employers had agreed during the first round of negotiations. The following table summarises the main demands of the social partners and the outcomes of the new agreement.

Outcomes of new agreement
Issues Trade union demand Employers’ offer New agreement
Pay increase over three years 12.4% 10.2% 10.4%
Frame time 13 hours 13.5 hours 13 hours*
Daily rest 11 hours 11 hours with one exception a week 11 hours*
Employment protection As in law As in law As in law

Note: * The rules differ depending on whether a particular bus line is more or less than 50 kilometres.

Views of social partners

BuA is satisfied with the new agreement because it gives the organisation control over costs for the next three years. At the same time, BuA fears that the changes in working hours will result in higher costs for tax payers and more part-time employment.

Kommunal is also satisfied with the agreement, stating that it has achieved the goals set for the important issues concerning working hours.

Reaction of bus drivers to new agreement

Meanwhile, many bus drivers have highlighted their dissatisfaction with the agreement and some are threatening to leave Kommunal as a result. The reason for their discontent is the apparent division between different bus drivers depending on whether their bus routes are longer or shorter than 50 kilometres. Many of the new agreements concerning working hours are only valid for drivers operating on short lines, which many bus drivers view as arbitrary and unfair.

Thomas Brunk and Mats Kullander, Oxford Research

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