Strike rights ‘could be curbed’

Centre Party leader Maud Olofsson has told unions that their use of industrial action must become more "reasonable" and proportional. A failure to heed the warning could result in legislation, she warned. But colleagues in the government rejected the call.

Olofsson, who is also Sweden’s industry minister, said that many small businesses were dragged into conflicts that they were not really involved in.

“We expect unions and employers to engage in a discussion on the principle of proportionality. If they don’t deal with this there is a risk that we will have to intervene with legislation,” she said on Wednesday during a presentation of the Centre Party’s programme for job creation and entrepreneurship.

The party wants a complete ban on unions targeting industrial action at companies which don’t have union members in their staff.

“We are defenders of collective agreements, but there are companies and employees who choose other solutions, and it must be up to those employees to do so,” she said.

Other members of the government were quick to distance themselves Olofsson’s call on Wednesday. Labour Market Minister Sven Otto Littorin told news agency TT that the government has no plans to make changes to strike laws, and that the views expressed by Olofsson were those of the Centre Party and not the government.

Sven-Erik Österberg, Social Democrat member of the Riksdag’s labour market committee, criticized the Centre Party’s analysis.

“There is no equality on the labour market – on the contrary, employees are vulnerable, and one of the few real tools available is the right to strike. If you start to unpick this you get a completely different labour market, in which the wage-earner side is seriously weakened,” he said.

A debate has been raging in Sweden in recent months over the right of unions to take action against companies in which they don’t have members.

The issue was brought to public attention after the Wild’N’Fresh salad bar in Gothenburg closed following four months of picketing by the Hotel and Restaurant Union. The union objected to the fact that the salad bar owner had not signed a collective agreement, despite the fact that none of her staff were union members.

Referring to salad bar owner Sofia Appelgren Maud Olofsson said:

“It does not send a good signal to society when a young woman who has gone from unemployment to starting her own company closes it down and says she doesn’t want to run a company any more.”

Olofsson promised a number of measures if employers and unions reached an agreement.

“If this happens, we politicians and we in the Centre Party promise that it will become easier to get training, easier for those who want to start a company, that there will be a social security system that will not leave people falling between two stools, that people will quickly be able to get rehabilitation if they are on sick leave and that they will get coaching if they become unemployed,” she said.