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10. Trade Unions and Employers Associations

Brief Description of Employees’ and Employers’ Associations

The “Swedish model” of industrial relations is characterised by a high degree of organisation even though trade union density is currently falling. The system is based on the principles that law and collective bargaining agreements together shall provide a comprehensive framework. There are approx. 110 different trade unions and employer’s organisations on the Swedish labour market. The parties have agreed on more than 650 collective bargaining agreements. Almost one out of ten employers in Sweden are members of an employers’ organisation and approx. 70 percent of the employees in Sweden are members of a trade union.

The employer is, through the membership in an employers’ organisation, bound by the collective bargaining agreements applicable for that organisation. The employer is obliged to apply the terms and conditions of the collective bargaining agreement also to employees that are not members of a trade union.

Rights and Importance of Trade Unions

The high level of unionisation on the labour market is the foundation to the co-determination between employees and trade unions on the one hand, and employers and employers’ organisations on the other hand. The individual employee and employer are granted the right to join and become members of associations and engage in activities through these without hindrance from the other side. The Co-Determination Act contains the general provisions governing the relationship between the employers and the unions in such areas as association, information, negotiations, industrial actions and labour stability obligations.

According to the Co-Determination Act, an employer has certain consultation and information obligations towards the trade unions. For example, prior to any decision to reorganise the business and prior to any decision to terminate employment contracts, the employer must call for and conduct consultations with the trade unions under the applicable collective bargaining agreements (both at a local and a national level, if applicable). Even if the employer is not bound by any collective bargaining agreement, the employer is obliged to consult the planned reorganisation and potential redundancies with any trade union of which a concerned employee is a member.

The act also, to the benefit of the trade unions, contains certain interpretation regulations. Generally, these rules give the trade union the right to interpret the collective bargaining agreement until the matter has been finally decided by court, and, hence, are important in the case of disputes.

Once a collective bargaining agreement has been entered into and is in effect an obligation to refrain from industrial action comes into effect and prohibits strikes or lockouts. Breaking the peace obligation will incur liability for damages on the breaching party.

Types of Representation

Normally, the local trade unions elect one or more representatives to represent the employees at a workplace, under the provisions of the Trade Union Representatives Act. However, this right only applies if the employer is bound by any collective bargaining agreement. Employees who are trade union representatives may not be prevented from carrying out union work during working hours, may not be discriminated against due to their union activities and are entitled to a reasonable leave of absence to carry out their union activities.

Number of Representatives

There are no limitations on the number of representatives in a workplace. The number of representatives vary and is largely determined by the trade unions represented at the workplace, based on the number of employees. The number of representatives also vary depending on the workplace itself; blue-collar workplaces, such as a factory, may have more representatives compared to white-collar workplaces, such as an office.

Appointment of Representatives

The local trade unions appoint representatives at the workplace.

Tasks and Obligations of Representatives

The local trade union representatives shall manage questions relating to labour at the specific workplace, normally issues of salary, work environment, reorganisations, etc. are covered. In order to conduct union work, the union representatives are entitled to time off. Further, a union representative enjoys an extended protection in a redundancy situation.

Employees’ Representation in Management

The Board Representation Act entitles employees of private companies bound by collective bargaining agreements employing at least 25 workers to appoint two ordinary and two deputy employee representatives to the board of directors. Employees of companies that have at least 1,000 employees and are engaged in different industries are entitled to appoint three ordinary and three deputy employee representatives to the board of directors. However, the number of employee representatives on the board may not be higher than the number of other board representatives. If possible, the employee representatives should be elected from the employees in the company (or the company group).

Other Types of Employee Representative Bodies

Sweden has implemented the Works Council Directive and the Directive establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community.

In a workplace where at least five employees are regularly employed, one or more safety representatives should be appointed in accordance with the Working Environment Act. If the employer is bound by a collective bargaining agreement, the union appoints the safety representatives. Otherwise, they are appointed by the employees.

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