Unions in standoff with councils

Negotiations for better wages for local authority workers have been broken off, and the two sides have agreed to take their dispute to arbitration. Kommunal, The Swedish Municipal Workers' Union, has been unable come to an agreement with employers, who are afraid that any concessions on higher wages will set off a domino effect.

Both the union and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR), said late on Thursday evening that they were nowhere near being able to agree.

“We concluded that we are far away from each other on the wage agreement. They have higher demands than we can agree to. At this point, it is better to get help from outside,” said Åke Hillman, spokesman for the union.

The disagreement centres on wages for the most junior council workers, including school cooks, cleaners, care assistants in old people’s homes and auxiliary nurses. Hillman did not want to reveal which specific demands are causing the impasse but said that they are interested in talking numbers. Kommunal has worked towards a guarantee of 15,000 crowns a month for the lowest wage and a general raise of at least 650 crowns a month for others.

“The cost of the raise is minimal; we are talking of a few tenths of one percent,” said Håkan Pettersson of Kommunal to Sveriges Radio.

The negotiations between SALAR and unions to renew the collective agreement for higher-paid workers such as nurses, doctors and teachers went smoothly, but some 400,000 workers still remain without an agreement.

The standoff is a repeat of the conflict between unions and employers two years ago. Many workers are unsatisfied with their wages and the way the union has led the negotiations.

“I think it is bloody awful, if I may say so. It is wrong that we are so undervalued when we work with people,” says Ida Eliasson, who works at the service home Af Klint in Karlskrona.

Both parties say that they will try to avoid talk of strikes during negotiations, which means that it could take a while before the two sides are satisfied.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Sveriges Radio