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UNION

Unions ordered to pay for Vaxholm blockade

Two Swedish trade unions have been ordered to pay 2.7 million kronor ($392,000) to a Latvian construction company whose 2004 project in Vaxholm in eastern Sweden was interrupted by a union blockade.

Unions ordered to pay for Vaxholm blockade

The sum, to be paid to the Laval construction company by the Byggnads builders union and the Swedish Electricians’ Union, includes 2 million kronor in court costs incurred by the company, as well as 550,000 kronor plus interest in what the court called “general damages” for carrying out illegal labour conflict measures.

Even though Byggnads didn’t agree with the judgment, the organization plans to abide by the ruling and pay the compensation.

“We abide by the legal outcomes we receive and that’s something we’ve always done. We want everything in order in the labour market and that means following the laws and rules,” Byggnads chair Hans Tilly told the TT news agency.

He believes trade unions must coordinate better, both in Sweden and in Europe.

“We’ve relied on the Swedish model and on solving conflicts between parties. But employers have decided to take legal action instead of negotiate. They put things on a new track,” he said.

The electric workers’ union, which joined the blockade in solidarity with Byggnads, believes the ruling will make it harder for Swedish unions to demand collective wage agreements for foreign workers.

A subsidiary to Laval was hit by a union-ordered blockade in November 2004 after negotiations on a collective wage agreement with Byggnads failed.

The company eventually withdrew from the school-renovation project in Vaxholm outside of Stockholm and the contract it had with the municipality was torn up. Laval’s Swedish subsidiary later went bankrupt.

The Labour Court rejected Laval’s request in 2004 to have the court order the unions to terminate the blockade.

In April 2005, the court found that it could not rule on the case until it received clarification from the European Court of Justice regarding EU and Swedish labour laws.

The Latvian government protested against the Swedish position in the case, viewing the blockade as a violation of EU rules protecting the free movement of labour among EU member states.

In December 2007, the European court ruled that the blockade broke EU rules and that Byggnads went too far in ordering a blockade of the Vaxholm work site.

According to the European Court, Byggnads had demanded more than what was allowed under the 1996 EU directive governing posting of workers in the framework of the provision of services.

While the Swedish court has now ruled that the trade unions are required to compensate Laval for general damages and court costs, it rejected the Latvian builder’s demand that it be compensated for economic damages.

The ruling wasn’t unanimous, with three of the seven judges dissenting. One of the three believed the damage award should have been lower, while two others didn’t think Laval should be compensated at all.

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NORWEGIAN

Swedish union ‘impotent’ in Norwegian staff shuffle

Norwegian's Sweden-based cabin crew, recently moved to a staffing company, have complained that their Swedish union does not have the clout to protect them against the budget airline and the unspoken threat of losing their jobs.

Swedish union 'impotent' in Norwegian staff shuffle
Norwegian cabin literature. File photo: Ann Törnkvist/The Local
Days before Christmas, Norwegian announced that 52 cabin crew in Sweden would be let go. They would continue working for Norwegian, but via staffing firm Proffice. 

"All Proffice employees are now scared, we are no longer employed by an airline. When they say jump, we have to say 'How high?'," a cabin crew member, who wanted to remain anonymous, told The Local.

"We are all pissed at the union and the fact that they own shares in the staffing firm makes us feel that they aren't listening to us. It's very frustrating; from year to year they are giving us worse conditions."

The cabin crew's union, entitled Unionen, is one of the ten biggest share holders in Proffice, the disgruntled employee noted. 

The latest twist, reported in local media over the festive season, was that the move to Proffice cut three days off a month for the former directly employed cabin staff, despite initial promises that all working conditions would remain unchanged. Twelve days off became nine. 

Such scenarios have been addressed in a question to the European Commission sent by Swedish Left Part MEP Mikael Gustafsson. 

"The Temporary Agency Work Directive (2008/104/EC) entered into force in 2008 and was based on the principle of equal treatment," he wrote in the official letter. "In other words, employees of temporary employment agencies should not have less favourable working conditions than employees in the user enterprise."

Gustafsson told The Local he found it regrettable that the EU had introduced a temporary workers directive at all, as staffing firms should be regulated on national not union level, but said the current problem was simply that companies based in Sweden were disregarding the 'equal treatment' clause. In other words, staffing companies should uphold domestic laws and standards.

The cabin crew member who spoke with The Local touched on the perceived precarity of being at the mercy of company that could simply ship jobs abroad. The employee summed up a lose-lose paradox: While furious that Unionen had not stopped the transfer of jobs to a third-party staffing company, the cabin crew member said the Swedish union's insistence that all airline staff be covered by its collective bargaining agreement jeopardized the existence of their jobs in the long-term – regardless of the EU temporary workers directive.

"Unionen is making this profession leave Sweden. They want everyone in Sweden to have the same collective agreement, but Norwegian is a European airline so our organization has a different structure," the employee told The Local. "Because our union won't let go of this thinking, our jobs are going to go abroad."

MEP Gustafsson is now awaiting a reply from the Commission. 

"It's a downward spiral. This kind of (staffing behaviour) forces even 'good' companies to behave badly in order just to compete and survive," Gustafsson told The Local.

 
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Representatives at Unionen, meanwhile, have spoken openly about their worries that Norwegian could endanger working conditions. And Rickard Gustaffsson, CEO of Scandinavian airline SAS, one of Norweigian's main competitors, told the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper last week that politicians should look into the organizational "grey zone" in which he believed Norwegian was operating. Outsourcing its staff has taken place not only in Stockholm, but also in Bangkok, London, and Malaga, SvD noted this week. 

While Norwegian has been widely covered in Nordic and international media as a business success story, with the purchase of new planes and the addition of several long-haul routes in recent months, they have not escaped criticism. Union representatives in the US added their voice to the fray on Thursday. 

 
Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), a Washington, DC-based labour organization, said Norwegian had already has a track record of leaving workers in the lurch in its quest for lower labour costs . The business model, which he noted was based on having planes on Ireland, staff in Thailand, and owners in Norway – should be criticized, he told the Norwegian news agency NTB.

"It's designed to do one simple thing. Shop the world for the cheapest possible work force," Wytkind said."And to come to the US and shove out employees." 

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