Builders’ union threatens new blockade

(AFP/The Local) A Swedish construction workers' union has threatened to blockade the building site of a construction company employing low-paid Latvian workers, in the latest accusation of wage dumping in Sweden.

The threat is part of a heated debate in the Scandinavian country over European regulations on the free circulation of labour and services.

The Byggnads union warned the Swedish construction group Bygg-Lett i Örebro that “a blockade would begin on May 18” if the company does not sign Sweden’s industry-wide collective wage agreements.

“On two occasions we have tried to draw up an agreement with the company, but representatives from the company have rejected it,” said Gunnar Ericson, agreements secretary at Byggnads.

“We see no other way than to implement a workplace blockade.”

Bygg-Lett employs between 18 and 22 Latvian workers in Sweden.

Speaking to AFP, Byggnads spokesman Arne Bergqvist did not mention the Latvian workers’ low wages specifically, but said: “They’re allowed to work, but we want them to work in line with the collective agreement and with the same conditions” as Swedish construction workers.

He added that Byggnads “has nothing against the fact” that foreign labourers work in Sweden. Byggnads said it planned to blockade the work site until the company signs the collective agreements.

In another similar case, the Byggnads union has accused the Latvian construction company Laval un Partneri Ltd of paying its workers in Sweden far lower wages than permissible in Sweden.

Byggnads has claimed that some of Laval un Partneri’s workers made only 35 kronor an hour – a far cry from the 138 to 145 kronor hourly wage laid down in the collective agreements.

Byggnads began blockading Laval’s building sites in the country last November in an attempt to pressure the company into signing the collective agreements.

Laval took Byggnads to the Labour Court, which in December ruled that the union’s actions had been permissible under Swedish law.

But the Latvian group argued that while the union blockades may have been legal under Swedish law, they violated European regulations on the free circulation of labour and services.

As a result the Labour Court has now sought a preliminary ruling from the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. A response is expected in a year or two.