Published: 07/04/2010

After years of struggle, and only hours before scheduled industrial action, the Swedish Food Workers’ Union has broken a deadlock to win a new national collective agreement for the food sector which provides extensive protection against the use of temporary agency labour. The agreement will be in effect from April 1, 2010 through January 31, 2012.

The legal framework regulating temporary employment in Sweden dates from 1974 – two decades before a 1994 law provided for the establishment of private employment agencies. Since then, employers have persistently attempted to use agency work to undermine employment security and collective bargaining.

As union President Hans-Olof Nilsson explained in announcing the agreement, The new collective agreement does not forbid temporary workers but regulates in detail the procedures for hiring agency workers. If an employer wishes to use temporary workers, they must first negotiate and agree with the local trade union. If the local parties do not agree, the negotiations can continue on the national union level. If there is no agreement on that level either, the question can finally be decided upon in an arbitration council where each party has two members. The arbitration council is led by an impartial president who is jointly designated by the two parties.

In the negotiations the interests of the workers shall be weighed against the company’s need for flexible staffing. In order to hire temporary staff, the parties have to be in agreement in every specific case that it is better to use temporary staff than for the company to employ new staff. If there is an agreement to use temporary staff, they should not be paid less or have inferior conditions compared to the conditions of permanent staff. Agency staff are also paid for 40 hours per week whether they work or are on standby.

Now the employers are forced to come to an agreement with us if they want to use agency workers, said Nilsson.

The agreement also provides for wage and pension increases to keep abreast of predicted inflation over the coming 22  months