Strike Averted as Union Solidarity Boosts Swedish Hotel Workers’ Struggle for Permanent Jobs and a Living Wage
Strike action scheduled to begin at 19 hotels in Sweden’s 3 largest cities on early morning May 17 has been averted with the conclusion of a new 2-year collective agreement between the Swedish Hotel and Restaurant Workers’ Union (HRF) and the employers association. The conflict had gone into mediation as the strike deadline approached and other unions had announced active support measures. The Swedish Food Workers had given notice that deliveries of all beverages and bottle/packaging pickup supplied by the major breweries to the hotels on strike would be halted beginning May 24. They were joined in turn by the electrical workers, who announced they would be filing notice of support action at some of the struck hotels and refusing to perform any work there, and by the transport workers, who would refuse to pick up and empty dustbins at the hotels.
Negotiations for a renewed collective agreement had broken down over two key issues: the employers’ insistence on extending and increasing precarious employment, already rampant in the sector, and their rejection of the union’s proposal of a SEK 1,028 (slightly over USD 100) monthly wage increase. HRF was able to get very, very close to this wage target by accepting the mediator’s proposal for a SEK 980 SEK increase over 25 months: SEK 400 per month from May 1 2010 and 580 from May 1, 2011. This still leaves hotel workers’ pay below other sectors but brings them closer to a living wage. The new agreement also includes stricter limits on precarious employment, and in particular the use of casual, day-by-day employment arrangements which many of their members have been strung out on for weeks, months and even years. Employers will now have to offer permanent jobs where there is a consistent shortage of labour, and the use of agency workers is restricted.
The HRF together with the other LO unions have elaborated a common platform for collective negotiations this year aimed at reinforcing the right to a permanent fulltime job, curbing the expansion of all forms of precarious work and attacking structural wage discrimination entrenched in low wage sectors where women predominate.