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Trade unions

Trade unions are there to represent the interests of employees in the workplace. An employee has the right to be a member of a trade union. As an employer, you are obliged to negotiate with the trade union in situations concerning its members.

The foundation of trade unions is the right of association. This means that employees have the right to belong to organisations without interference from the state or other actors, such as employers. Employees therefore have the right to belong to a trade union. Employers have the corresponding right to belong to an employer organisation.

The right of association must not be infringed on. This means that you, as an employer, must not discriminate against an employee who uses their freedom of association. You must also not give benefits to employees to prevent them from joining a union in the future.

Trade unions for sole traders can help those who run their own business with advice and support. However, not all trade unions accept self-employed people as members as they can see a conflict of interest between being employed and being self-employed. If your business grows and you start hiring employees, you can no longer be a sole trader member of a union. Contact the union you are interested in to see what their membership rules are.

An association of an entire profession is usually called a trade union. An association of different trade unions within an entire sector is usually called a trade union association. In turn, most trade union associations are affiliated with one of the three main organisations:

As a member, an employee is entitled to assistance with

  • pay and other terms and conditions of employment
  • gender equality
  • legal disputes
  • working environment issues
  • organisational issues affecting working conditions.

Trade unions have the right to negotiate with the employer on matters concerning their members. Your obligation to negotiate gives the union the opportunity to influence a decision. But it is always you, the employer, who decides what the final decision will be.

You are obliged to negotiate with the union in the following cases:

  • Decisions on major changes to your business.
  • In the event of shortage of work.
  • When the business is transferred from one employer to another (for example, when the business is sold).
  • Decisions on significant changes to the employee's working or employment conditions, such as reassignment (provided the employee is a member of a union).
  • When a trade union which has a collective agreement with the company calls for negotiations on a matter affecting a member.

If you have a collective agreement, you are obliged to negotiate with the union counterpart in the collective agreement.

If you do not have a collective agreement, you must negotiate with the trade unions in which your employees are members.

If no employee is a member of the union, you are not obliged to negotiate.

Negotiate before deciding

You must start negotiations with the union before making a decision on the merits. Well in advance of the negotiations, you must inform the union in writing about what the negotiations will be about. You must also prepare and present a reasoned proposal for a solution to the problem.

In practice, the obligation to negotiate means the following:

  • You must attend a meeting with the union.
  • You must provide the union with all the necessary information.
  • You must present a reasoned solution to the negotiation issue.

There is no obligation for the employer to reach an agreement with the union.

Risk of high damages

If you call for negotiations too late or fail to negotiate at all with the union, you may be liable for damages. The Labour Court takes breaches of the negotiation rules seriously and can award substantial damages for obvious breaches.

Urgent problems take precedence over negotiation

If there are urgent problems, the company may take a decision before the negotiations are over. This applies to:

  • Decisions that have to be taken quickly because of an unforeseen event (which is not solely due to poor planning) and where significant value is at stake.
  • A risk to safety in the workplace.
  • Disruption of essential societal functions.
  • Risk of damage to buildings or someone else's property.

The exception does not mean that you are exempt from negotiation. It just means that you can postpone the negotiation until the urgent problem is resolved.

The union's right to influence is governed by the Co-Determination in the Workplace Act. The Act does not give any rights to individual employees but rather to employee organisations (trade unions). The aim of the Act is to give employees a say in what goes on at the workplace. This applies not only to the individual employment relationship, but also to management, the distribution of work and the running of the business in general.

Co-Determination in the Workplace Act (MBL) at the Riksdag (in Swedish)

In order to be able to represent the interests of their members, trade unions have the right to receive information about your business activities.

You are obliged, on your own initiative, to keep the trade union with which you have a collective agreement informed about

  • developments in the finances of the business
  • production
  • personnel policy guidelines.

The union also has the right to inspect the accounts and other documents relating to the company. However, this only applies if the union needs access to this information in order to represent the interests of its members.

Inform even if you do not have a collective agreement

Even if you are not bound by a collective agreement, you are obliged to inform the union about business developments and personnel policy guidelines, but only those trade unions that have members employed by the company. The obligation to inform does not cover information on individual cases, or information on the employer's considerations.

Trade unions are bound by a duty of confidentiality

Your company and its employees are protected in principle by rules on confidentiality. This means that the information you disclose cannot be passed on if you request negotiation on a duty of confidentiality.