Theater of Cruelty

Torpedo against tariff pay?

The fate of the Swedish tariff system will be decided in the European Court of Justice. There, it will be decided whether the Swedish trade union movement may require Swedish pay to apply in Sweden. And whether Norwegian salaries should apply in Norway.


The ECJ considers whether the Swedish Construction Workers' Union Building violated Article 49 of the EU Treaty on the free flow of services when the union went into blockade by the Latvian construction company Laval to ensure that it paid Swedish tariff wages to its Latvian workers.

The European Commission and all EU governments have the right to submit their views before the European Court of Justice. Since the case is equally relevant to EEA countries, the Norwegian government has the same right.

The commotion shot by Commissioner McCreevy

Commissioner Charlie McCreevy, in charge of the internal market of the European Commission, was recently in Sweden and stated in an interview on Swedish Radio that the European Commission will support Latvia in the European Court of Justice. The requirement that Swedish collective bargaining agreements apply to everyone who works in Sweden prevents free movement. This fundamental freedom of the market is also impeded if the trade union movement has the right to force higher minimum wages in a workplace.

The response from the Swedish government was sharp: Minister of Industry Thomas Ostros's belief in blocking all work on the contentious proposal for a service directive. It is a directive that, in the worst case scenario, can open all doors to what Laval wants: that Latvian rules should apply to Latvian companies taking on assignments in other EU and EEA countries.

School law for the European Parliament

Last Tuesday, President of the European Commission, José Barroso, and McCreevy were summoned to the European Parliament to clarify what they stood for.

McCreevy had to endure sharp criticism from both the Social Democrats, the Left Socialists and the Greens. "You clearly stand for a neoliberal right-wing development," said Martin Schultz, leader of the Social Democratic group: "People in Europe want jobs, but not with Chinese wages or Asian working conditions."

There was no humble McCreevy who responded to the criticism: "If Members of Parliament expect me to crawl around quietly and not annoy any Member State or any Member of Parliament, I am afraid they will be disappointed." – It is my job to ensure the fundamental freedoms of the internal market, including the right to provide services in other countries.

- Hypocrisy and xenophobia

McCreevy, on the other hand, received full support both from the EPP, the large right-wing party in the EU, and from the Liberals, the third largest group in the European Parliament – and thus from the majority in the House. The left and the Swedish government were accused of populism, Building for hypocrisy and xenophobia. The Swedes from the Moderates and the People's Party completely agreed with that.

Barroso tried to calm the mood by saying that he had great respect for the Nordic model of collective agreements, and that the European Commission was now waiting for the questions that the European Court of Justice would ask before the trial: "Our answer will not be an attack. on the Swedish or Scandinavian social model, but at the same time it will respect and defend the rules laid down in the EU treaties. ” ( 25.10)

Latvian or Swedish tariff agreement?

The whole conflict was triggered when the construction workers' union in Sweden – Byggnads – last autumn blocked two construction sites because a Latvian company, Laval un Partneri, refused to enter into a collective agreement with the union.

The Latvian construction company won a tender to renovate a school in Vaxholm and was in the process of another construction assignment in Djursholm. Laval pointed out that the company had a collective agreement with its employees in Latvia – and therefore refused to negotiate with Byggnads to enter into a Swedish collective agreement.

Byggnads had no members at the construction site in Vaxholm, and the association therefore urged members of the Electricians' Association to go to sympathy. At the same time, the members of Byggnads in Djursholm were taken out in sympathy. The union also got the Transport Workers' Union to prevent deliveries to these construction sites.

Swedish double standards?

The Latvian government gave full support to Laval, saying that the blockade violates EU law: The blockade discriminates on the basis of nationality and also hinders the free flow of labor.

Sweden's Minister of Labor Hans Karlsson did not agree: The Latvian company "is treated in the same way as Swedish companies that do not want to enter into collective agreements." Therefore, there was no question of any discrimination.

But the Latvian foreign minister hit back hard and accused the Swedes of double standards: “If the trade union movement is concerned about the Latvian workers in Vaxholm, why does it not worry about the Latvian workers working in Swedish companies in Latvia, where they earn much less than in Vaxholm? ”

Two conflict themes

The conflict between Sweden and Latvia involves two factors:

  • n Can the trade union movement and the government in Sweden demand that Latvian construction workers be paid according to Swedish tariff when working in Sweden?
  • n And can the Swedish trade union movement use the blockade weapon in such conflicts?

Swedish labor law is clear: Swedish tariff applies in Sweden, and the trade union movement is on secure labor law grounds when it uses blockade and sympathy strike to enter into collective bargaining agreements with disputed employers.

But in EU law this is controversial – and unclear. Most EU countries have introduced public minimum wages. Sweden and Denmark do not have it. It is the trade union movement that, through collective agreements, defines what is an acceptable minimum wage in working life.

The EU also has no common labor law that says anything about labor conflicts and strike rights, nor about blockades and sympathy strikes.

A crucial crossroads

The European Court of Justice must make a fundamental choice – both for Sweden and for the EU. If it supports Laval, the foundations of the Swedish agreement system will collapse. Wage dumping will be free on a broad scale. In the most vulnerable industries, it will be impossible to compete on the basis of Swedish collective pay for Swedish companies as well. The Swedish government may have to introduce a public minimum wage to prevent unworthy wage conditions in parts of working life. But public minimum wages are usually far lower than the minimum wage in collective agreements.

In that case, Denmark and Norway will be affected in the same way, Norway because of the EEA agreement. But will the European Court of Justice trigger such a dramatic development in Scandinavian working life?

Admittedly, the European Court of Justice has, on a case-by-case basis, perceived it as its responsibility to ensure that the basic market principles of the EU are not undermined by special national rules. But this time, the warnings from the governments of Denmark and Sweden are not to be misunderstood: "If the European Court of Justice goes against Sweden, we will have a popular uprising against the EU," warns the Swedish Minister of Labor.

Our own red-green government should not be less clear.

(owner) C: Documents and SettingsOwnerMy documentsDay SNy TimeNew Time 2005New Time 40-05-Vaxholm.doc

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