Sweden has witnessed consecutive attacks on workers’ rights over the past two years. The government now intends to dilute the law on employment security despite widespread opposition from workers and left forces.
Earlier this year, the Social Democratic and Green coalition government, with the support of two liberal parties, presented a proposal to amend the employment protection act, Lagen om anställningsskydd (LAS). The government has claimed that the proposed changes “could have a positive effect on the work of the employees, which would lead to a better result for the companies.”
The changes intend to increase employment flexibility by introducing wide-ranging exceptions to the existing principle of “last in, first out”, as per which, the last worker to be hired is also the first one to be let go. The rule offers a degree of protection to workers from arbitrary firing. The proposed changes will enable every company, regardless of size, to apply these exceptions and make it easier for smaller companies to let go of staff. If carried out, companies with 15 or less employees will no longer have to state a legitimate reason for firing workers.
The changes are supposedly being brought to allow Swedish companies to compete on the global scale in an international situation characterized by intensified competition.
The government initially left it to the unions and the capitalists to resolve any issues through negotiations. It also announced that if no compromise could be reached, the reforms would be pushed through parliament. Under these circumstances, unions sought to negotiate a deal that would be less detrimental than the government’s proposed changes.
However, there was massive resistance from union members and workers, with polls showing that 90% of the country’s population opposed the dilution of workers’ rights, as per the Swedish Trade Union Confederation. This led to some union leaders to withdraw down from the negotiations, which eventually broke down.
The Social Democratic government is under pressure especially from the Left Party, which has promised to raise a vote of no-confidence if the proposed changes are pushed through. The Left Party wants the issue to be settled through negotiations. It has not ruled out the proposed changes endangering job security, but wants them to be implemented “correctly”.
After a brief attempt to resume negotiations, some unions accepted a compromise while others refused. It also remains to be seen whether the Left Party will raise a vote of no-confidence against the government. The right to strike in Sweden had come under attack in 2018, leading to severe restrictions on carrying out legal strike actions. At that time too, the Left Party had threatened to raise a vote of no-confidence but failed to do so.
In the current situation, even if a vote of no-confidence is raised, right-wing parties like the Sweden Democrats may not support it as the proposed changes have been a part of their agenda for decades.
Meanwhile, the Communist Party of Sweden has made several statements opposing the proposed changes, stating that a reduction in employment security is unacceptable and that the only solution is to organize the people for an anti-capitalist struggle.