Proposal for a new mediation institute encounters trade union criticism

Official mediators in Sweden should not only have the task of helping trade unions and employers to reach an agreement, they should also promote "a satisfactory system of pay determination". This is the conclusion of an official investigator who presented his proposals on 27 November 1997. The two union confederations for salaried employees appealed to the Government to give the investigator new terms of reference, as they fear for the freedom of collective bargaining.

At the beginning of 1997 the Minister for Equal Opportunities Affairs, Labour Law and Working Hours appointed the director general of the National Institute of Economic Research, Svante Öberg, as a special investigator with the task of proposing measures to promote a satisfactory system of pay determination (SE9704111F). On 27 November 1997, he presented his first results (Medlingsinstitut och lönestatistikSOU 1997:164).

Mr Öberg proposes that the National Conciliator's Office be replaced by a new authority, the National Institute for Mediation. Unlike the former, which only has the task of helping disputing parties to reach an agreement irrespective of its content, the new institute should also promote a satisfactory system of pay determination. The report deals mainly with the organisation of the new institute and the competence of its staff. It does not say how the mediators are to work or what powers they will have. Proposals on these issues will appear in a new report at the end of 1998.

The present proposal caused immediate debate. The leaders of the two trade union confederations for salaried employees, TCO and SACO, jointly appealed to the Government to give the investigator new terms of reference. They claim that the proposal means a farewell to free collective bargaining. As they see it, it is impossible to combine the role of a mediator with the role as a representative of the Government and different political interests. An institute which takes over the responsibility from the negotiating parties is nothing less than an instrument for state income policy, the unions conclude.

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