Investigation into union benefit threats

An employment office is facing investigation by Sweden’s justice ombudsman after it threatened to withdraw unemployment benefits from people if they refused to take part in a trade union demonstration.

The controversy stems from a letter sent by the Nyköping employment service to unemployed builders in the town. The letter said that information on the employment market would be distributed on a bus that was taking union members to a demonstration in Stockholm. The demonstration was organized by the Byggnads trade union in support of collective agreements, and was attended by Hans Karlsson, minister for working life in the Social Democrat government.

The letter said that attendance was “compulsory”, and said that those who did not attend would be removed from the list of job seekers and would have unemployment benefits withdrawn.

Despite the fact that the letter has been condemned by the head of the employment service in Nyköping and Hans Karlsson, Dagens Nyheter reports that justice ombudsman Nils-Olof Berggren has decided to investigate the matter.

Speaking to Sveriges Radio, the man responsible for sending out the letter said that it was a mistake on his part that had been caused by stress.

“We should have made sure that Byggnads rather than the employment service had taken the intitiative for the invitation,” said Kurt Holmgren, an employee at the employment service in Nyköping.

Holmgren said that the threat to withdraw benefits was the result of a clerical error. The letter had been created on a template for writing letters inviting people to interviews at the employment office. Such letters include a standard paragraph warning people of the consequences of not attending, and this paragraph had inadvertently been left in the letter inviting people to the demonstration.

Whether or not the specific threats in the letter were the result of a clerical error, the fact that civil servants have associated themselves so directly with sectional interests has awoken concern in some quarters, and has sparked fury from opposition politicians.

Liberal Party Lars Leijonborg condemned the apparently close relationship between the Social Democrats, the trade unions and the employment service.

“It is a shocking example of what happens when the Social Democrats become intertwined with the state,” he said, condemning that people appeared to have been cajoled into taking part in “the Social Democratic propaganda operation.”

Following the revelations in Nyköping, the national employment service has sent a circular to employment offices around the country reminding them that they should not link themselves to trade unions or political parties.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Östgöta Correspondenten, Sveriges Radio