The Swedish labour market – characteristics
Characteristics for the Swedish model is that a vast majority of the workforce are members of trade union and that the labour market to 90% is covered by collective agreements. The trade union affiliation in Sweden is 70% (all sectors). 1,5 million workers are members of trade unions affiliated to TCI (the trade union confederation of white-collar workers).
Swedish labour law
The Swedish labour law consists of collective agreements, labour law legislation and rulings by the Labour Court. The most common disputes in the Swedish Labour Court concern the 1974 Act on Security of Employment. Disputes regarding interpretation of collective agreements are also frequent.
When a labour law dispute arises it is initially handled at the workplace or at regional level. There are negotiations between the employer and the union at the workplace (or the regional branch of the union if there is no union at the workplace) aiming at solving the dispute. If the dispute is not solved it is taken to a higher level, to negotiations between the trade unions central organization and the employer’s organization. If the central parties also fail to solve the dispute the next step is the Labour Court.
The Labour Court
When there s a collective agreement in place it is not possible to take a dispute to the Labour Court if the dispute has not been negotiated.
There is only one Labour Court in Sweden. The judgement of the Labour Court is the final judgement in the dispute since Labour Court judgements cannot be appealed.
The Labour Court is a normal court in the sense that it is financed from public funds. Members of the court are appointed by the government. The individual parties in a dispute have no influence whatsoever over the composition of the court. In addition, the court also follows largely the same judicial process as the general courts. The Code of Judicial Procedure applies to the Labour Court. When hearinga case the Labour Court generally consists of seven members. In the usual seven-member court there are three neutral members plus two members representing the interests of the employer and two representing employee interests.
The Labour Court handles 400 to 450 cases each year. The number of rulings amounts to between 150 and 160 each year. In most cases taken to the Labour Court the parties reach amicable settlements.
Legal service based on trade union membership
The right for a member of a Labour Union in Sweden to get legal aid is stated in the statutes of the unions.
Egal service is awarded subject to prior decision taken by the executive body of the respective national union. In the majority of the cases this is being done in the following way.
The national union concerned appoints a lawyer from LO-TC Rättsskydd AB to assist the member affected by a dispute. The national union pays all the costs caused by the dispute i.e. the work of the lawyers as well as the possible costs of the counterpart.
Legal service is normally granted in the following cases, i.e.:
Disputes with the employer.
Alleged crimes committed at the workplace.
Issued related to social security such as the right to indemnity in the cases of occupational injuries, sickness benefit, disability pensions etc.
Indemnity for injuries caused by the employer.
Other legal disputes directly linked to employment.
The Legal Bureau (LO-TC Rättsskydd AB)
LO-TC Rättsskydd AB is usually described as the trade unions’ lawyers’ office.
Iy is a joint stock company, in which 90% of the shares are owned by the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO), thus indirectly by the national unions affiliated to the LO, and 10% are owned by The Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees, (TCO).
LO-TCO Rättsskydd AB gives legal assistance and service to LO, TCO and the LO and TCO affiliates. This means that, after decision in their own trade union organization, about 2,7 million LO and TCO members can get support in legal affairs related to their work.
LO-TC Rättsskydd AB employs a total of 49 people. The company is divided in two different departments.
With the help of consulting medical expert the 15 lawyers in the Department of occupational injuries and social insurance represent the members of the unions before the authorities making decisions concerning the right to social insurance’s, before the court and the High Court deciding in these matters. If a person employed by a company, not covered by collective no fault accident and sickness insurance’s, is hit by an accident, the lawyers of this department represent him/her in the negotiations with the insurance company of the employer concerned in court.
The Department of labour and criminal law, consisting of 19 lawyers, mostly handles cases concerning labour relation disputes and represents the union and its members in court. The department however also handles criminal cases where a member of the union is prosecuted for a crime he or she is suspected of having committed in connection with his or her work. An example could be when a worker causes injuries to, or the death of, a fellow worker. The department also deals with company law, civil law and law of bankruptcy.
Normally the need of legal assistance only occurs when negotiations have failed and the next step is to take the dispute to court. This also means that the cases submitted to LO-TC Rättsskydd AB are cases of great importance and might serve as pilot cases for the future. LO-TC Rättsskydd AB represents one of the parties involved in about 35% of all cases submitted to the Labour Court.
The total net cost of LO-TC Rättsskydd AB, i.e. for the two departments and for the internal administration, amounted last year to about SEK 62 million. This is less than SEK 23 per affiliated member. The same year the lawyers of the company secured compensations to the client/the trade union member of about SEK 325.5 million.
Anneli Anderbjörk Ohlsson