- Observatory: EurWORK
- Published on: 27 May 2009
Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.
Swedish research has not given much attention to the relationship between working conditions and social dialogue, which probably depends on Sweden having a long tradition of social dialogue, a high level of union representation, and a generally high awareness of occupational health and safety. In addition, the specific relationship between working conditions and social dialogue is not well documented by social partners, whereby few studies covering this matter have been found. However, both qualitative and quantitative research concludes that the size of enterprises is an important factor when examining the existence and level of social dialog related to working conditions. Small enterprises appear to be lacking this kind of dialogue to a greater extent than larger ones.
A. Mapping of existing research and administrative reports
The Swedish Work Environment Act (SFS 1977:1160) prescribes that work concerning safety and health issues must be formalised in enterprises with more than five employees. A local safety representative is employed at the enterprise that he/she represents and is elected by the employees. In addition, a regional safety representative can be elected by a local trade union if the union is represented by at least one employee in the company. The government finances the regional safety representative scheme, and most commonly the regional safety representative's work is part time, whereby most safety representatives have another job as well. Enterprises with 50 employees or more are obliged to have a safety committee, which consists of representatives from the employeesaeuroTM side (primarily represented by the trade union) and the management side. At enterprises with safety committees, only local, and not regional, safety representatives are elected. For further information, please refer to:
Within Swedish enterprises, social dialogue on working conditions primarily takes place between safety representatives, the trade union, and employers, and is formally organised in the above-described forms. Generally speaking, the debate on social dialogue and working conditions mostly concerns the organisation of safety representatives and their work on work environment issues, and also the debate on whether the social dialogue has the same effect regardless of the size of the enterprises. Studies on the specific relationship between social dialogue and working conditions have not been found, however, some studies on work environment cover the subject briefly.
Changes within enterprises' organisation on occupational health and safety issues have been noticed during the previous years. These changes are partly explained by the requirement for enterprises to have a systematic work environment organisation (Systematiskt ArbetsmiljA¶arbete, SAM), which is a regulation established by the Swedish Work Environment Authority in 2001 (AFS 2001:1), and which should be seen as a complement to the Work Environment Act. SAM consists of three main areas/actions: mapping/investigating, implementing, and follow-ups. SAM also puts focus on the cooperation between employees and employers, and its affects on the safety representative system has influenced the government to consider a revise of the Work Environment Act in order to be able to cope with the changing nature of the work environment organisation.
Present a summary of the survey(s), its findings and methodology, including any caveats about the research
The Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen, LO) carried out a survey among regional safety representatives in 2006 (Gellerstedt, S. Skyddsombudens arbete och erfarenheter 2006. Stockholm, 2007). The survey was carried out on the background that more and more employees have temporary employment and also because of the fact that small enterprises increased with approximately 20% during the 90s. 535 regional safety representatives (RSR) (elected by LO) within three different sectors aeuro" construction, manufacturing and service aeuro" answered the survey. The survey was conducted together with Statistics Sweden (SCB) and the questions were formulated in line with previous studies conducted by the National Institute for Working Life (Arbetslivsintitutet).
The respondents were randomly selected and the responding frequency was 73%. The survey was indented to examine the regional safety representativesaeuroTM work and experiences. Even though the relation between social dialogue and working conditions is not examined specifically, some findings are still valuable to present in this context. For example, respondents were asked to state whether they considered that their work, as regional safety representatives, had contributed to improve the working environment. 94.8% gave a positive response (aeuro~yesaeuroTM), whereby it could be concluded that a great majority considered the social dialogue to have a positive effect on the work environment. Another interesting finding deal with the respondentsaeuroTM evaluation of managementsaeuroTM and employeesaeuroTM level of engagement in issues related to work environment, which is illustrated in table 1. As can be seen, more than 50% of the RSRaeuroTMs who responded within the construction and service sector consider both the management and the employees to be passive concerning work environment matters.
|Active management, active employees||Passive management, active employees||Active management, passive employees||Passive management, passive employees|
Source: Gellerstedt, S. Skyddsombudens arbete och erfarenheter 2006. Stockholm, 2007 p. 16.
The survey further illustrates that the main reasons (regardless of sector) for the regional safety representatives to make repeatedly visits to enterprises, involves follow-ups on suggested measures (67.7%), and revisiting work places that were evaluated as having a poorly organised work environments during a prior visit (56.2%).
The finding, that a majority of the surveyaeuroTMs participants consider themselves to contribute to a better work environment, also indicates the important role regional safety representatives have in work environment matters. In 2005, about 2,100 regional safety representatives from the three main trade unions (LO, TCO and SACO) made a total of approximately 61,000 visits at almost 273,000 small enterprises (see table 2).
|Number of RSRaeuroTMs*||1,400||1,509||100||500||20||100||1,520||2,109|
|Amount of work**||310||220||35,4||59||1||4||346||283|
|Number of work places visited||150,567||193,396||29,287||77,895||2,189||2,198||182,052||273,489|
|Number of employees covered||680,071||615,000||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|Number of RSO* visits||61,192||54,282||2,785||6,314||-||-||63,977||60,596|
*Regional Safety Representative
**The amount of work corresponds to the number of working hours per year
Source: Gellerstedt, S. Skyddsombudens arbete och erfarenheter 2006. Stockholm, 2007.
Even though the number of regional safety representatives increased between 1995 and 2005, the amount of time they spend on their assignment decreased. Possible effects on the work environment have not been studied. However, it could be assumed that the discussion with employers on work environment improvements decreases since less time is spent on each work place. Ideally, enterprises covered by a regional safety representative should also have local safety representatives representing the employees. However, the survey shows that this is generally not the case. 45.1% of the respondents state that only few enterprises they visit (approximately one in ten) have local safety representatives. The low level of local safety representatives can either be a result of the enterprises having less than five employees, or that they do not comply with the law.
Table 3 illustrates the most common work environment problems according to the survey. In this context, the most interesting finding is that the most common problem is related to having a dysfunctional systematic work environment (Systematiskt ArbetsmiljA¶arbete, SAM) organisation. Since SAM emphasises that there is cooperation between employers and employees on work environment related issues, this could to some extent imply a lack of social dialogue focusing on the work environment. In addition, taking into consideration that the survey found that many enterprises have a management and employees that do not engage in matters on work environment, this is a natural consequence.
|Heavy lifts, physical work||41.6%||28.2%||21.6%|
|Trying and/or monotonous work||31.7%||12.7%||21.8%|
|Repetitive work, one-sided movements||15.5%||10.7%||11.7%|
|Too high working pace, too much work, understaffing||33.8%||39.9%||32.8%|
|Poor working organisation||31.8%||37.0%||22.6%|
|Harassment, social dysfunction||1.8%||9.9%||2.4%|
|Weld smoke, gases, chemical risks||3.1%||1.2%||28.3%|
|Heat, cold, draught||4.3%||5.5%||10.2%|
|Insecure forms of employment||5.8%||26.7%||7.7%|
|General accident risks||22.3%||6.8%||11.5%|
|Dysfunctional systematic work environment (SAM) organisation||41.7%||50.7%||67.1%|
|Dysfunctional work adjustments and rehabilitation||10.1%||21.9%||21.9%|
Source: Gellerstedt, S. Skyddsombudens arbete och erfarenheter 2006. Stockholm, 2007.
Present, where relevant, the exact wording of the questions that address the relationship between working conditions and social dialogue
No such information available.
Is there a predominance of cases or more information available in certain sectors? Are any particular issues emerging? Has any monitoring or evaluation been carried out?
No specific sector is focused on.
2. Qualitative research
Present a summary of the research, its findings and methodology, including any caveats about the research
Worker representation on health and safety in small enterprises
One subject of discussion, as also mentioned in the above-presented survey, is regional safety representatives and the benefits/limitations of this scheme. This has for example been highlighted in an article (Frick, K. & Walters, D.L., 1998, Worker representation on health and safety in small enterprises: lessons from the Swedish approach. (V.137 i3) p. 367) that discusses research on SwedenaeuroTMs regional safety representative system. The article is also based on several data gatherings, including a questionnaire survey (carried out in 1994) that was sent out to all regional safety representatives within the two largest trade union confederations in Sweden, LO and the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (TCO). The survey was also complemented with in-depth interviews with regional safety representatives, labour inspectors and occupational health and safety spokespersons for the trade unions and employersaeuroTM organisations. One finding that is discussed in the article is that the regional safety representative scheme constitutes a major occupational health and safety support for small enterprises. Even though the regional safety representatives only visit small enterprises once every second year or less, the support given by the scheme is a great improvement compared to labour inspectors that visit once every 8-10 years.
Findings also show indications on how actions taken by regional safety representatives have prevented injuries. One example, which also proves the positive effect of social dialogue, is found within the baking industry, where serious hand injuries from machinery accidents are frequently reported. In cooperation with the labour inspectorate, regional safety representatives launched a campaign against improperly guarded baking machinery. These actions resulted in that sick leave due to machine-related injuries decreased from 2,500-3,000 (during 1989-92) to 1,500-2,000 (during 1993-96) days per year. However, even if regional safety representatives are estimated to have had a major role in this achievement, their exact contribution cannot be measured. Another example involves the retail sector, where many workers are exposed to repetitive strain injuries. Regional safety representatives' involvement has often been positively received by shop-owners. They have for example seen positive results of having a person with knowledge about cashier ergonomics and robbery protection etc. giving them advice on what to do for their employees.
The article further discusses whether the social dialogue, which is needed in order to implement occupational health and safety policies, has the same effect in small enterprises as it has in large ones. The article describes that the dialogue on occupational health and safety within small enterprises is limited compared to large enterprises, which depends on that there is no established forum for discussing such issues, a limited availability of training to meet the needs of regional safety representatives, and little support from preventative occupational health services. If, for example, a conflict on health and safety matters occurs between regional safety representatives and employers in small enterprises, no obvious procedure for mediation is available, as it is in larger enterprises that have established safety committees.
Work environment organisation and interim agencies
The increasing role of interim agencies (bemanningsfA¶retag) on the Swedish labour market, has resulted not only in lowering the level of unemployment, but also in more employees being hired on limited periods of time by different employers. The working conditions of employees working for interim agencies have been discussed, including a debate on health and safety issues. IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute Ltd. (IVL Svenska MiljA¶institutet) has studied the work environment organisation for employees hired through interim agencies (2002, ArbetsmiljA¶arbete fA¶r uthyrd personal i bemanningsfA¶retag). The project was initiated in 2000, in order to obtain an overview of the work environment organisation; interviews were conducted with the human resource manager and the trade union representative at two different interim agencies. A total of 13 interviews were conducted with employees working for seven interim agencies. Also, interviews with seven recruitment coordinators at interim agencies, eight supervisors employed by enterprises hiring personnel, and five safety representatives were carried out. Findings showed that not a single one of the temporary employees knew who were responsible for their work environment, but most commonly they presumed that the responsibility was attached to the hiring enterprise or the safety representative at the hiring enterprise.
According to the law, the responsibility is divided. The employer always has the main responsibility; however, the hiring enterprise is obliged to make sure that the workplace is safe also for the temporary personnel. Another finding was that none of the interviewed safety representatives at the hiring enterprises had received specific training on the role as safety representative for temporarily hired employees, and they had never been involved in any case where a hired employee was among the concerned. The report concludes that the safety representative scheme does not function satisfactory for employees hired through interim agencies. Specific conclusion on the relation between working conditions and social dialogue cannot be made based on these findings, however, the report indicates that a social dialogue, leading to improved working conditions, can be complicated to ensure for employees working under these circumstances, as the responsibility for their work environment has to be coordinated by more parties than normally is the case.
Work environment improvements within the construction sector
The working conditions within the construction sector are often referred to as defective. ArbetsmiljA¶ 2000 (Working Environment 2000) is an initiative that was taken by the Swedish Building WorkersÂ´ Union (Byggnads) in order to increase awareness about the benefits attached to a better work environment. The initiative and its effects have been discussed in a report (Rapport om arbetsmiljA¶ och ekologiskt byggande till kongressen 2002, Stockholm, February 2002). The main goal with the initiative was to drastically change the work environment for the better, which among others included communicating the importance of local and regional safety representatives taking part in planning and follow-ups to improve the work environment organisation. One finding presented in the report is the need to improve the cooperation between the local and regional safety representatives, as the communication and dialogue between the parties were lacking. Even though the report does not directly identify the social dialogueaeuroTMs possible effects on working conditions, the importance of social dialogue is discussed indirectly.
One objective with the project was to increase the number of safety representatives, as these generally are viewed as important for improvements of the work environment and to ensure that safety instructions are communicated and followed. For example, during the project, work placesaeuroTM work environment and safety organisation were inspected, and especially work places with scaffolds and work places with chemicals were visited. It turned out that only 56% of the work places with scaffolds had instructions on how the scaffolds should be put together correctly, which can be seen in the light of fall accidents being the most common work related accident during 1999. However, during the project the number of work related accidents within the house building, road and constructions sectors decreased with almost 3,000 cases (unlike 1998 and 1999 when the accidents increased). Fall accidents were the only type of accidents that decreased, and since the inspections that took place during the project brought attention to the importance of scaffolds being correctly constructed, the decrease can partly be explained by the initiative.
Safety representatives and their ability to influence the work environment
In a dissertation from 2004 (Steinberg, Maria, 2004, Skyddsombud i allas intresse - en rA¤ttsvetenskaplig undersA¶kning (Safety delegates in the interest of everyone - A historical and empirical legal study)) safety representativesaeuroTM power to influence the work environment was examined. The study covers a total of 400 cases; 200 when the safety representatives used their authority to suspend work, and the remaining 200 cases when safety representatives used their power to request a decision from the Supervising Authority. Main findings included that safety representatives were able to influence their employer or the Supervising Authority in 96% of the cases where suspension of work was used, and in 92% of the cases where requests for a decision from the Supervising Authority was used.
Is there a predominance of cases or more information available in certain sectors? Are any particular issues emerging? Has any monitoring or evaluation been carried out?
Since employees hired through interim agencies generally are viewed as vulnerable because of their type of contract, this is a highlighted group also in the context of social dialogue. Furthermore is the construction industry a sector that has been exposed to many occupational accidents, which leads to that this sector has got much attention in matters regarding work environment and safety matters. However, the relation between social dialogue and working conditions is, as already mentioned, an area of limited number of case studies and surveys.
3. Administrative reports
Do reports from Labour Inspectorate / Health and Safety Authorities exist where the absence of dialogue between the two sides of industry on OHS matters is mentioned? (Present the findings briefly)
The work environment for the employees working for interim agencies has further been investigated in a project initiated and carried out by the Swedish Work Environment Authority (ArbetsmiljA¶verket) (2001, Verksgemensam tillsyn av personaluthyrningsfA¶retag Rapport 2001:8). The report presents the findings from a project that involved inspections of interim agenciesaeuroTM internal control and work environment. 193 work places were inspected, which involved a total of 37 interim agencies. The inspections were carried out at the interim agencies offices as well as work places that had hired personnel from an agency. The goal with the project was to prevent negative stress. One finding related to social dialogue concerns the limited knowledge on working environment among managers and supervisors working at interim agencies. Generally, a forum for cooperation between managers and supervisors was missing, which complicated the possibility to obtain and share information, whereby policies and routines needed to support the work of the employees were difficult to spread throughout the organisation.
Is there predominance in a certain sector?
No specific sector is focused on.
When so, mention the five most quoted sectors.
The role of Labour Inspectorate in an advice / information role to get the social dialogue going whether establishment-specific or not.
The social dialogue on working conditions is mainly handled by the social partners through collective agreements. The Labour Inspectorate primarily constitutes a controlling function, focusing on the implementation of the national Work Environment Act and the Council Directive 1989/391, where minimum criterion are stated to protect employees from health and security risks. However, via the systematic co-operation on working environment between social partners, SAM, the Swedish Work Environment Authority is supporting the dialogue on working conditions. No report is found on this specific topic.
Is the gender aspect taken up in OHS, is it taken up in the OHS social dialogue, who puts it on the agenda and what is its outcome, if any?
No specific gender perspective has been observed.
B. Actual examples of social dialogue influencing working conditions
4. Examples of social dialogue
Trade union perspective
The physical work environment
According to TCO, one example on social dialogue being successful can be seen within the physical work environment, in fact, TCO considers the physical work environment at Swedish workplaces to be world leading. This is a result of the tripartite cooperation from the 1950s. The actors involved were trade unionsaeuroTM and employersaeuroTM central organisations and the government, and the social dialogue was held on a national level. Subjects discussed were physical health risks, occupational accidents, noise, chemical health risks and ergonomics. These actors saw the needs of an expanded employee protection. More and more problems were identified through research, and further legislation (the Work Environment Act) and supervising authorities (the Swedish Work Environment Authority, ArbetsmiljA¶verket) was established as a result.
The redundancy programme agreement
Also the so-called redundancy programme agreement is, according to TCO, a successful example within a social dialogue context. The agreement involves collective agreements between the unions and the employers. The agreements involve actions that should be taken for employees that are affected by redundancy. Generally speaking, the agreement makes sure that affected employees get access to qualifying training and further education. The benefits with the agreement cannot, according to TCO, be overestimated, as the employeesaeuroTM possibilities to stay on the labour market are facilitated through these agreements. The agreements also enable the industry and the public sector to restructure without having too negative social effects. Actors involved in these agreements include different associations that have been formed within sectors and employersaeuroTM organisations.
For both examples, a given success factor is that all parties have benefited from the agreements that followed the dialogue. During the improvement of the work environment, in the 1960s and the 70s, Swedish work places experienced a shortage in workforce, which resulted in employers having to engage in creating a better work environment in order to be viewed as an attractive work place. This resulted in trade unions having more satisfied members and the government having lower costs. For example, the trade unions have benefited on these agreements, since members have stayed within the unions, given the higher level of membership value, and the government has benefited since very few redundancy programme agreements have been objects for open unemployment and a case for the employment service agency.
Furthermore, the redundancy programme agreement made it possible for employers to implement extensive restructures without extensive union or social protests. One example is Ericsson that during the 90s gave notice to and dismissed 50,000 employees. That would not have been possible without the redundancy programme agreements.
Some areas where social dialogue has not been successful in improving the working conditions were also pointed out by TCO, such as the causes of the high sick leave figures in the late 90s. According to the official at TCO, the unions are of the opinion that the increasing sick leave is a result of higher work intensity level and less control over the work process. This is not an opinion supported by the employers however, whereby they have not been willing to take part in a social dialogue. Therefore, the government has been forced to take other actions since the parties have not been able to solve the problems through a dialogue. The so-called co-financing responsibility, which means that employers have to contribute in financing the health insurance costs, is a result of this lacking social dialogue.
According to LO, the social dialogue between social partners developed during the 20th century and is a crucial part of the democratic development in Sweden since the dialogue legitimises and copes with labour disagreements between social partners. Safety representativesaeuroTM rights and obligations, and employment law is regulated by the Work Environment Act, Workplace Union Representatives Act and by some collective agreements. These regulations seek to create an equal dialogue between employers and employees, who are to find suitable solutions for both partners. The form for this dialogue is regulated by collective agreements.
In a historical perspective, the LO Congress in 1971 demanded that each individual employee received more independent work, possibilities to further training and education, and more influence on how to organise work. During the 90s LO requested general improvements regarding influence/co-determination at work and development of payments and job positions, and also local strategies for development of working conditions and payments. In 2000 LO perceived a relative positive picture of the new aeuro~knowledge based societyaeuroTM, structural transformations and globalisation, simultaneously the industry production was under high international pressure and employers insufficient cooperation with the trade unions created an uncertain situation for the social dialogue. In 2004 the LO congress focused on topics such as high work intensity, flexible working hours, unaccompanied work, and further training and education. This historical review demonstrate, according to LO, that the struggle for democracy and influence at work places takes time and persistence.
Today there are better work situations with group organisations at many work places, possibilities to change work tasks (arbetsvA¤xling) to prevent monotonously work, and time for planning and organisation in cooperation between social partners. However, there are simultaneously contradictory job situations with severe control of work under time pressure and uncertain working conditions. The work on improving job positions (extended job responsibility and increased payments) has not yet made impact in all sectors. In addition, unaccompanied work, odd working hours, frets and violence are still common problems for many trade unions to solve.
According to the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt NA¤ringsliv), there has been a long-standing and extensive cooperation between social partners across sectors, within sectors and at a local level concerning work environment issues in Sweden, which has strongly contributed to that the working environment in Sweden is of high standard. The area of work environment is a typical area of cooperation between social partners.
For example, the cooperation across sectors within the framework of Prevent is one good example on preventative work regarding education on work environment and also the support to R&D within the framework of AFA Labour Market Insurance Company (AFA FA¶rsA¤kringar) is important to improve the work environment.
Prevent is ScandinaviaaeuroTMs leading provider of knowledge and training in the field of health and safety. Prevent is a non-profit organisation and its principals are the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) and the Council for Negotiation and Co-operation (PTK). The solutions the organisation develops have the approval and support of the trade unions, employers and sectoral organisations.
In co-operation with the AFA Labour Market Insurance Company, which is owned jointly by the trade union and employersaeuroTM organisations, Prevent keeps a close watch on the injury and illness figures to ensure that the partners respond promptly to trends and tendencies in the field of the work environment.
Prevent works to promote healthy, sound and safe workplaces by arranging for the provision of knowledge and methods suited to each place of work through:
- Publishes textbooks, training and work materials, CDs and video films
- Arranges training courses and conferences
- Carries out training, information and survey projects in co-operation with employers, trade unions, the AFA Labour Market Insurance Company and others
5. Social partner views
Trade union perspective
According to TCO, the social dialogue in Sweden is well functioning at a central as well as a local level. This is a result of both the trade unions extended coverage of Swedish work places and the result of employers being well organised. Also the co-determination in the Workplace Act supports a social dialogue, as it makes room for trade unions to have influence on the decision-making and regulations on the area covered by this act. This further enables and facilitates the presence and organisation of so-called co-operation groups (samverkansgrupper) at the work places.
Although, TCO perceives a disadvantage in the right to direct work (arbetsledningsrA¤tten), as it involves the employers having a one-sided decision-making power on every aspect that is not regulated by law or agreements. It has turned out, according to TCO, that employers tend to take advantage of this by defining more and more working condition matters to comply with this right to direct work, and especially staffing matters, including the issue of how many employees the work places should have (i.e. how much workload the employees have).
LOaeuroTMs general view on the social dialogue is that it is unbalanced. The dialogue within the industry sector, particularly paper and pulp industry, is functioning in a much better manner compared to other sectors. Within the private service sector, such as hotel and restaurant and real estate management the dialogue is managed inadequately. Within the municipal sector the social dialogue is quite good, but resources needed to solve problems is lacking. During the 1990s the social dialogue turned downwards, but has improved during the last years. However, according to LO, the current social dialogue has not the same qualities as in the 1980s. Thus, there is more work to do.
According to the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, social dialogue has a strong effect on the development of working environment. Due to a long lasting and extensive dialogue between social partners for more than 60 years and a development of common organisation (Prevent) dealing with work environment issues, Sweden experience high standards on work environments. (Please refer to the previous answer under heading nr. 4).
Gellerstedt, S., Skyddsombudens arbete och erfarenheter 2006, Stockholm 2007
Frick, K. & Walters, D.L., Worker representation on health and safety in small enterprises: lessons from the Swedish approach. International Labour Review, vol.137, 1998, i. 3 p. 367
Birgersdotter, L., Schmidt, L. & Karlsson, A., IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute Ltd. (IVL Svenska MiljA¶institutet), ArbetsmiljA¶arbete fA¶r uthyrd personal i bemanningsfA¶retag, Stockholm, 2002
The Swedish Building WorkersÂ´ Union (Byggnads), Rapport om arbetsmiljA¶ och ekologiskt byggande till kongressen 2002, Stockholm, 2002
Steinberg, M., Skyddsombud i allas intresse - en rA¤ttsvetenskaplig undersA¶kning, Stockholm, Norstedts Juridik AB, 2004
Sundh-NygA¥rd, K. & Edqvist, U., the Swedish Work Environment Authorisation (ArbetsmiljA¶verket), Verksgemensam tillsyn av personaluthyrningsfA¶retag Rapport 2001:8, 2001
Contact details of people interviewed available on request.
Thomas Brunk & Jenny Lundberg, Oxford Research