One-hour strike ends collective agreement dispute in transport

A one-hour strike ended deadlock over a new collective agreement covering 40,000 workers in Sweden’s transport sector. Despite starting negotiations in autumn 2012, the social partners failed to agree on pay, the length of a new agreement or on terms for hiring temporary workers by the end of February 2013, when the previous agreement expired. The Swedish Transport Workers’ Union went on strike on April 24, but called it off an hour later when agreement was finally reached.

Background

Social partners in the transport sector began negotiations on a new collective agreement in the autumn of 2012. However, no consensus had been reached by the time the previous agreement expired at the end of February 2013.

Still at issue between the Swedish Transport Workers’ Union (Transport) and the Swedish Road Transport Employers’ Association (BA) were pay levels, the length of the new agreement and terms for the hiring of temporary workers.

On 4 April 2013 the Transport union announced that its members would strike on 24 April 2013 if the social partners had not come to a compromise by then. The BA’s response was that it would enforce a lockout of workers on 25 April 2013.

No compromise had been reached by the morning of 24 April, and the strike began – but it was halted one hour later after the partners finally reached agreement. In a statement, the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) said this strike had been the shortest of the century.

Union demands

The demands (in Swedish) made by the Swedish Transport Workers’ Union included pay increases higher than the industry norm and a short collective agreements valid only for 12 months.

The union also sought changes to the terms under which temporary workers could be hired. It demanded that if companies dismissed workers on permanent contracts because of work shortages, those workers should be offered employment before any temporary staff were hired. It wanted a cap on the ratio of temporary workers to workers on permanent contracts.

Finally it asked for a guarantee that any temporary agency used by an employer in the transport sector should be required to follow Swedish laws and collective agreements.

The BA response (in Swedish) was that such restrictions would ‘diminish the employer’s right of organising its business’. President Peter Jeppsson stated that the ‘the demands of pay increases and restricting the use of temporary work agencies makes business hard’. He described the union’s strike threat as ‘irresponsible’.

Employers’ demands

The BA wanted a collective agreement valid for three years, pay increases in line with the industry norm and no restrictions on the hiring of temporary workers. BA’s argument for a longer agreement (in Swedish, 91Kb PDF) was that it would create a safe and predictable situation between the social partners that would enable the industry to compete more effectively in the global markets.

The BA also stated that it was of the utmost importance that any pay increase was aligned with the industry norm since higher pay levels would decrease Sweden’s competitiveness.

Its opposition to regulation of the use of temporary work agencies was motivated by the importance of flexibility when transport companies are faced with abnormal workloads and other sudden changes in work flow.

The response (in Swedish) of the Transport union president Lars Lindgren to the employers’ viewpoint was that negotiations had almost led to agreement, but he insisted that the key issue was not pay but the issue of temporary work agencies.

The agreement

The agreement (in Swedish) will be valid for 37 months and and sets pay level increases in line with the industry norm, as the employers wished. The agreement does, however, contain restrictions on the use of temporary work agencies.

Hired temporary workers are to be covered by the collective agreement. Employers must also negotiate with the union before hiring about matters such as time periods, work tasks and work hours. The employers are also obliged to inform temporary workers of the national average pay levels of comparable workers.

Commentary

It is clear that both sides compromised to reach agreement.

The Swedish Transport Workers’ Union accepted a longer agreement and lower pay increases to gain concessions on the hire of temporary workers.

The shortness of the one-hour strike might imply that the partners were closer to agreement than they thought. However, it is difficult to assess the extent to which the strike influenced the final negotiations that led to agreement.

Emilia Johansson and Angelica Idenving, Oxford Research

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