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Editorial

The changing nature of cooperation

| By acting editor Björn Lindahl

Nordic labour markets have seen major and at times dramatic changes at the start of 2019. In Sweden 4,500 employment service workers have been made redundant, in Finland sick leave levels are rising and Denmark now has two rather than three trade union confederations.

The Nordic model is constantly changing. The tripartite cooperation between trade unions, employers and governments has remained a core value. But is the model really all about the tripartite cooperation?

Many wanted to be in the group photo when a new Inclusive Workplace Agreement was signed in Norway just before Christmas in 2018. Four trade union confederations represented the workers: LO, YS, Unio and Akademikarna. An equal number of organisations represented the employers: NHO, KS, Spekter and Virke. The agreement was also signed by the Minister of Labour on behalf of the government, and the Minister of Local Government and Modernisation, who represented the state as employer. 

The more correct term, therefore, might be a “deca-partite cooperation”. 

The new year saw Denmark cut its confederations down from three to two with the birth of HF – a merger between LO and HTF. Akademikerne is now the only other confederation.

Will this give employees more influence? HF Vice President Bente Sorgenfrey hopes it will. She believes this gives Danish trade unions more gravitas in Nordic and European organisations. Her aim had been to also bring Akademikerne into the merger.

For the other Nordic countries, one single trade union confederation remains a foreign concept. But only in Sweden and Norway are the largest confederations called LO – short for the national organisation.

In Sweden, The Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees TCO is breathing down LO’s neck, which only has 16,000 more members. Then there is Saco, representing professionals. Finland and Iceland have three trade union confederations each.

Both Sweden and Norway got new coalitions governments in January, after lengthy negotiations. The ministers for labour remain the same in both countries: Ylva Johansson and Anniken Haugland. But there will be major change in labour market policies, particularly in Sweden.

As part of the agreement between the Social Democrats, the Greens, the Centre Party and the Liberals, severe cuts are being made to the Swedish Public Employment Service. This means 4,500 workers have been put on notice, one of the largest numbers ever in Sweden. Working for the employment service is no longer considered to be safe employment. It is still too early to say what effect developments in Sweden will have on the other Nordic countries.

The Reykjavik Future of Work conference in April will consider what a future labour market might look like, says Gissur Pétursson. He has moved from heading Iceland’s Directorate of Labour to becoming the top civil servant at Iceland’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Children. Iceland holds the Nordic Council of Ministers Presidency this year. Gissur Pétursson will play a central part in Nordic cooperation on labour market issues for the duration of that tenure. Meet him in this month’s Portrait.

Unemployment is falling in all of the Nordic countries. That is good news, but it also leads to rising levels of sick leave. Jenny Blomgren, who heads the research group at the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, explains that during an economic boom, the more fragile workers also enter the labour market. Sick leave increases as a result. Low unemployment has a psychological effect too – the fear of losing your job diminishes, and more dare to take sick leave.

But not only workers get ill – so do their children. In Sweden, February is often called “Vabruary, from the abbreviation VAB which stands for vård av barn, or looking after children. We look at what it means to vabba and vobba in Sweden.

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