Full time work “should be a right”

Employers should be obliged to give part-time workers full-time employment if they want it. That is the argument being made by Swedish trade unionists - and they are getting a sympathetic hearing from the government.

Trade union Kommunal, which represents local council workers, is leading the campaign for new legislation. In an opinion piece in business daily Dagens Industri, the union’s leaders claim that more full-time jobs would have “positive effects for society”, but business leaders say the idea would lead to higher unemployment at a time when the issue of Sweden’s jobless total is already at the top of the political agenda.

The idea of forcing employers to offer full-time work to part-time workers has previously found favour with the government. Hans Karlsson, minister for working life, set up an inquiry last year to examine the issue, but said it was his “definite objective” to give people the right to full-time jobs before the 2006 general election.

Employers’ organisations are are lobbying the government fiercely to ensure that the law stays as it is. The Swedish Federation of Trade (SFT), which represents retailers, says that the proposals are “an awful idea” which, if adopted, would lead to redundancies.

“If you have two part-time workers and both have the right to full-time jobs, companies will be forced to make one of them redundant,” says chief negotiator Bo Cederlöf.

Kommunal does not deny that companies would lay people off, but claims that this would be positive for the economy.

“Sweden is facing a labour shortage within a few years. If an employer with two part-timers instead employs one person full time, resources are made available to other sectors,” the union writes in Dagens Industri.

Cederlöf dismisses Kommunal’s argument, saying that Sweden today has “very high unemployment.”

He also claims that any change in the law would hit retailers particularly hard:

“Shops need more staff at certain times, like just after salary day, and this can only be achieved by using part-time workers,” he argues.

The union concedes that some flexibility in the new laws might be necessary, but Lars-Åke Almqvist, vice-chairman of Kommunal, says that legislation is necessary to improve the lot of part-timers:

“There is a need for a new law, and then we can create solutions using collective agreements in various sectors.”

“The largest problem is the creation of new jobs; but it is no answer to have jobs that don’t give people enough to live on.”

The government committee’s report on the issue will be presented on 30th November.