Dispute over unsocial hours bonus in "7-Eleven" shops ends up in the Labour court

A dispute about an unsocial hours bonus has led the Commercial Employees' Union to sue the company behind the 7-Eleven shops for a breach of the relevant collective agreement.

On 13 March 1997, Handelsanställdas förbund (Commercial Employees' Union) sued the company behind the 7-Eleven chain of shops for SEK 1 million compensation for breach of the collective agreement. The agreement in question is in fact a combination of two, which were agreed last summer in an attempt to settle a dispute concerning the unsocial hours bonus.

The "7-Eleven" shops, of which some are run directly by Small Shops Sverige AB and some by franchisees, sell everyday commodities, but also fast food such as hot dogs, sandwiches, pizza slices and pies. In 1993 Small Shops Sverige, describing its activity as aiming at establishing a chain of fast food outlets, entered into a collective agreement with Hotell och Restauranganställdas Förbund (Hotel and Restaurant Workers' Union). However, according to the Commercial Employees' Union, the principal activity of 7-Eleven is retail trade, and the shops should thus apply the collective agreement for the retail trade. Small Shops Sverige refused, mainly on the grounds that this agreement would force the employers to pay a much higher unsocial hours bonus than before.

Assisted by a mediator, the parties finally came to an agreement. It meant that the shops would apply the collective agreement for the retail trade with one exception: for the time between midnight and 06.00, they would pay their employees the unsocial hours bonus provided for in the collective agreement for the hotels and restaurants sector, on the condition that no "provisions" were to be sold during these hours. The agreement stipulates that "the provisions range shall then be suitably and effectively screened off or covered". Small Shops Sverige also undertook to see to it that all franchisees would comply with this agreement.

Almost immediately it became clear that the Commercial Employees' Union and Small Shops Sverige interpreted the notion "provisions" differently. According to the trade union, it comprised everything except "fast food". Small Shops Sverige on the other hand claimed that 7-Eleven could go on selling inedible goods as well as everything that could be eaten directly, and furthermore, that customers who want to buy a bottle of ketchup, for example, could do so even after midnight, provided that they also bought fresh food.

So now the Commercial Employees' Union has sued Small Shops Sverige AB in the Labour Court, alleging that the 7-Eleven shops still sell "provisions" after midnight, and that the company has done nothing to check that the agreement is being observed either in shops run directly by Smal Shops AB or in shops run by franchisees.

The case is not likely to be decided until the end of the year.

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