That Sweden’s main trade union confederation, LO, wants to return to a system where government agencies and unions, rather than employers, determine who can work in Sweden is nothing new. But LO’s approach is inconsistent with the conditions governing the Swedish economy. We are a small country in a globalized world, and thus strongly dependent on both the free trade and open borders. Labour migration, therefore, makes it possible for Swedish companies to compete in the global arena.
The proposal from LO of a mandatory labour market assessment means that large occupational groups will be prevented from coming here to work. But according to the law, employers must pay foreign workers who are granted work permits in Sweden at least the same salary, give them the same conditions, and the same assurances as those enshrined in Swedish collective wage agreements or what is considered common industry practice. What then, does LO have against people employed in Sweden under those conditions? There is no government official or trade union representative who can better know what a business’s needs are and who is best suited to fill them than employers themselves. This is true irrespective of industry.
Obviously, it is important that the rules are followed and that pay and other conditions are the same as others in the Swedish labour market; it’s important not only for the individuals who choose to come to Sweden, but also for our member companies who otherwise would suffer from unfair competition. But the solution is not, as LO wants, a return to giving government authorities the power to review employers’ hiring decisions. Instead, what is needed is increased cooperation among public agencies, not only when it comes to pre-employment checks, as the case today, but especially when it comes to post-hiring checks, as well as increased powers to sanction employers that don’t comply.
There are difficulties associated with making employment offers legally binding, as LO wants to see. In the context of Swedish conditions, it’s very unusual to write binding contracts as long as eight to ten months in advance. A lot can happen during that time that can justify deviations in the original offer, deviations that are allowed within the framework of applicable collective agreements and standard industry practice. For example, a forestry planting in the north depends on when the ground has thawed, something that is difficult to predict accurately far enough in advance.
However, we share LO’s perception that it should be easier to get permanent residency in Sweden and that the need to maintain ties to one’s first employer and the sector be removed. The latter strengthens an individual worker’s ability to change employer if he or she isn’t satisfied with their working conditions.
It’s also obvious that the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) needs to work on cutting processing times for non-certified companies, which most are, and something many companies currently point to as a major obstacle.
Karin Ekenger works with labour market and labour migration issues with the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv), Sweden’s largest business federation representing 49 member organizations and 60,000 member companies.