Sweden to support union at EU court

Sweden's new centre-right government will support Swedish builders' union Byggnads in its case against Latvian company Laval when the case reaches the European Court, employment market minister Sven Otto Littorin has said.

“Obviously we will support the Swedish line that Swedish collective agreements should apply in Sweden,” Littorin said.

The government’s representative, Anders Kruse, will appear at a hearing in Luxembourg on 9th January. There, he will continue arguing the line set last year by the former Social Democratic government.

“If we hadn’t done it would have caused surprise and weakened our position,” said Littorin at a press conference in Brussels, where he is attending a meeting of EU employment ministers.

“The government was united about this at the cabinet meeting yesterday,” he added, claiming that the case is dealing with a very important point of principle.

The case, which has aroused interest across Europe, started when a subsidiary of Latvian company Laval started working on a school in Vaxholm, hear Stockholm. The company used Latvian workers, whom it claimed had signed Latvian collective wage agreements.

Swedish union Byggnads said that they should sign Swedish collective agreements. The union started a blockade of the building site, and the company eventually went bankrupt.

Asked whether he was supporting Byggnads, Littorin replied:

“No, clearly we are supporting the Swedish line that Swedish collective agreements apply in Sweden. But the fact that builders were standing there saying ‘Go home, go home’ is unacceptable.

“But we must differentiate between that and the basic fact that the Swedish labour market model is being tested in this case. We think it is reasonable to say that the unions and employers’ organisations should agree on conditions on the Swedish employment market, and not politicians or rules from elsewhere,” Littorin said.

The Swedish Labour Court ruled that Byggnads had acted in accordance with Swedish law, but asked the European Court to decide whether the Swedish rules were in accordance with EU rules.

Laval claimed that they had been discriminated against as a foreign company, arguing that Byggnads was allowed to take industrial action even though they had a collective agreement. The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise has taken Laval’s side, and has given the company financial support.

The question has divided old and new EU member states. Latvia has accused Sweden of discrimination.

Kent Brorsson at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise said he was “surprised that the new Swedish government is taking such an un-nuanced position, and simply saying that Swedish collective agreements should apply.

“We also value collective agreements but they obviously have to be in agreement with EU law.”

“I am surprised that they are not prioritising free movement of labour, but are taking a more protectionist view like the old government and the unions. It’s a backwards step,” said Brorsson.