EU to fight Sweden over Latvian builders

The European Commission will stand against Sweden when the case of the Latvian builders in Vaxholm is heard by the EU Court. Charlie McCreevy, Commissioner in charge of the Internal Market and Services, said in Stockholm on Wednesday that he sees Sweden's handling of the conflict as a breach of the European Union's treaty.

“It’s about freedom of movement,” he said, and answered “yes” to the direct question of whether he would argue against the builders union Byggnads in the EU Court.

The statement is very sensitive for the Swedish government, which strongly supported Byggnads in the conflict last winter.

The Latvian building company Laval failed to come to a collective wage agreement with Byggnads, when the company began work on a school building in Vaxholm. The Latvian builders were working under a Latvian collective agreement, while Byggnads demanded that the Swedish agreement be followed.

The conflict escalated and a series of Swedish trade unions blockaded the building site, eventually sending the Latvian company into bankruptcy.

Laval sued Byggnads and claimed that the blockade was contrary to EU regulations. In April the conflict was referred to the EU Court by Sweden’s Labour Court with a request for a preliminary opinion. The Labour court said it that the “correct application” of EU rules to the case was not obvious.

Dan Holke, a lawyer at the Swedish trade union organisation LO, which is representing Byggnads, reacted strongly to McCreevy’s statement and claimed that that the European Commission is ignorant of the details of the case.

“It’s incredibly surprising that the Commission has got involved in the case,” he said.

“The question is whether they’ve even read it. The case is about industrial action. In the Posted Workers Directive it expressly states that it does not affect the right to take union action,” said Holke.

The EU Court has still not issued any documents in connection with the matter, which leads Holke to wonder whether the Commission actually has a view on the question. But according to Anders Elmér, the legal representative for Laval, the Commission has several lines of action it can pursue.

“We have reported this to the Commission on behalf of Laval, as has the Latvian government,” he said.

“Each government and the Commission will be able to intervene in the process and it is completely natural and expected that they do so.”

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TT/The Local