Partial Labour Court victory for sympathy action by airport workers

In May 1999, the Swedish Labour Court ruled that industrial action taken in 1998 by members of the Swedish Transport Workers' Union at Arlanda airport in sympathy with Danish workers was not unlawful, despite the claims of the Swedish Air Transport Industry Employers' Association. The ruling represents a partial victory for the trade union.

On 2-6 May 1998, industrial action was organised at Arlanda airport, near Stockholm, by the Swedish Transport Workers' Union (Svenska Transportarbetareförbundet, Transport) in support of Danish workers who were then engaged in a major nationwide strike (DK9805168F). In a blockade, the union's members at the airport refused to load and unload luggage, reload food supplies and refuel aircraft which had been diverted to Arlanda from Denmark (SE9805186F). On 19 May 1999, the Swedish Labour Court held (1999/65) that the industrial action had been entirely in line with trade union procedures.

The industrial action as such was not unlawful, as claimed by the employers' organisation, the Swedish Air Transport Industry Employers' Association (HAO Flygbranschens Arbetsgivareförbund, HAO Flyget) and should be regarded as regular sympathy action, the Labour Court stated. Furthermore, although the chair of Transport changed his mind and on 1 May ordered the workers at Arlanda airport to start industrial action on 2 May, instead of the commencement date announced to the employer of 8 May, it was not wrong to do so according to trade union procedures. The chair had authority from the board to make and change such decisions. Such changes happen quite often in the transport business where immediate actions have to be taken.

HAO Flyget's second claim in the case was that the union took immediate action without regard to the legally stipulated seven days' warning period, and wanted the court to declare that the union had broken these rules. The court came to the conclusion that Transport was responsible for breaching the Co-Determination Act (medbestämmandelagen). According to these rules (section 45) employers' organisations, employers or employees' organisations are obliged to notify the other party in writing not less than seven days in advance of any planned industrial action or any extension of an industrial action which is already pending. The union was thus ordered to pay damages of SEK 60,000 to the employer, the sole damages awarded in the case. The employers had claimed substantial damages, totalling about SEK 23 million, for economic losses during the blockade, a sum that would have been awarded if the union had been found guilty of unlawful industrial action.

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