Strikes at several large companies in Sweden

by Jacob Nittmar and Sandra Nilsson


Building windows

During the last couple of months, several trade unions in Sweden have taken collective industrial actions with the aim of obtaining collective bargaining agreements at several large companies in Sweden. Industrial actions are unusual in Sweden due to the fact that most large companies already have collective bargaining agreements in place, and during the term of a collective bargaining agreement, there is normally a duty of peace between the parties, that is, no industrial action can normally be initiated.

On 26 October, Klarna Bank AB ("Klarna") was notified of a strike unless Klarna would enter into a collective bargaining agreement. After long discussions between the parties, and the threat of a strike, Klarna decided to become a member of the employers' organisation BAO and thereby bound by the collective bargaining agreement with the trade union Finansförbundet as per 1 January 2024, and the strike was called off.

On 27 October, the trade union IF Metall took industrial action against TM Sweden AB's ("Tesla") service centres and auto shops with the aim of obtaining a collective bargaining agreement. Following the strike at Tesla, several trade unions, including, inter alia, SEKO, Fastighetsanställdas förbund, Transport, Elektrikerna and Hamnarbetarförbundet have taken sympathy measures, affecting different services provided to Tesla. The sympathy measures affect e.g. postal services, shipping services, cleaning and maintenance services and services to Tesla's docking stations. As per today's date, the strike at Tesla has been ongoing for more than seven weeks.

Legal grounds for collective industrial actions

The trade unions' right to take collective industrial action is a constitutional right in Sweden. This is not an absolute right and limitations are set out in e.g. the Swedish Co-Determination in the Workplace Act (Sw. lag (1976:580) om medbestämmande i arbetslivet). In addition, limitations can be made in a collective bargaining agreement. For an action to be deemed a collective industrial action, the action must have the purpose of exerting pressure on the other party, and it must appear to be a collective action. Examples of actions that can be considered collective industrial actions are strikes, lockouts, sympathy measures, blockades and boycotts.

Collective industrial actions are permitted unless explicitly prohibited. During the term of a collective bargaining agreement, industrial actions are considered unlawful because of the duty of peace. In addition, collective industrial action is forbidden when such actions;

  1. are used to exert pressure in disputes concerning the interpretation and application of a collective bargaining agreement, its validity or its continued existence or whether a certain procedure is in violation of the Co-Determination in the Workplace Act. Such disputes shall be settled by negotiations and, ultimately, the courts;
  2. are used to exert pressure to change the collective bargaining agreement. Agreed terms in a collective bargaining agreement is protected against collective industrial actions. However, unregulated
    issues may still be subject to collective industrial action; or
  3. constitute a sympathy measure for an unlawful primary industrial action. If the primary collective industrial action is not lawful, neither is the sympathy measure.

If collective industrial actions are taken in violation of the Co-Determination in the Workplace Act, the employer, employee or organisation taking the unlawful action may be liable to damages.

Do you have any questions?