Easter strike threatens Sweden’s retail sector

One of Sweden's largest blue-collar unions is expected to announce an Easter strike on Monday after weekend talks with employer organisations broke down on Sunday.

The Commercial Employees Union (Handels) was negotiating a new agreement for 120,000 retail and wholesale employees with the Swedish Trade Federation (Svensk Handel) and the parties appeared to have reached agreement on Saturday.

But the three year deal, which would have meant that salary increases in the retail sector were more than those previously agreed for the industry, needed to be approved by the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svensk Näringsliv) – and the confederation refused.

“We are in agreement with the Swedish Trade Federation over an agreement for the three year period,” said union chairman Lars-Anders Häggström.

“But the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise forbade them from signing it. It’s completely absurd.”

The three year agreement which the Commercial Employees Union says the parties agreed on allowed for a 13 percent wage increase for retail and an 11 percent rise for wholesale workers.

Within the pay budget was an ‘equality pot’ to raise salaries further within the sectors dominated by female employees. Lars-Anders Häggström’s view was that it was this that the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise objected to.

The Swedish Trade Federation now has until 1pm on Monday to sign the agreement. If no signature is forthcoming, the union will announce a strike.

The strike will target the Easter weekend in order to hit employer organisations hardest, but that means it must be formally announced by midnight on Tuesday at the latest.

The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise refused to comment on its role in the negotiations.

“It’s up to the parties, the Commercial Employees Union and the Swedish Trade Federation, to talk about it,” said press officer Lars Jilmstad.