UNI Global Union’s Swedish affiliate, Handels, has attracted 5,000 new members this month, after successfully negotiating a deal with retail employers to avoid lay-offs and protect workers’ wages during the coronavirus crisis.
In Handel’s agreement with the Swedish Trade Federation, Svensk Handel, an employee’s working time can be reduced by 20, 40 or 60 per cent. However, wages will only decrease by 4, 6 and 7.5 per cent respectively with financial support from the state, meaning workers will be able to protect their jobs and keep their income at a high level.
The deal comes after the Swedish government introduced new legislation that enables a reduction in working hours to prevent dismissals.
Handels and the employers’ organizations have also agreed on common guidelines to reduce the spread of the virus and prevent negative economic effects that could lead to job losses in the commerce sector. The guidelines allow for swift changes in working conditions but stress the need to involve local unions and employees in the decision-making process.
To date, more than 2,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Sweden and over 30 people have lost their lives due to the pandemic. Although the growing crisis is having a serious impact on the economy and the commerce sector, Handel’s agreement shows how collective bargaining and dialogue is playing a key role in responding to the crisis.
Handels’ efforts to protect employment, wages and workers’ health have been combined with workers’ increasing need to be supported; and led to the dramatic increase in new members. While many regular organizing activities have been put hold as a result of the coronavirus, Handels is reaching out to new and potential members through phone calls and viral campaigns.
Susanna Gideonsson, president of Handels and UNI Europe Commerce, says:
“Our organization is now being tested and I’m pleased to see that more workers are joining Handels. The union stands strong while the world around us is in turmoil. We will all have to live with the consequences of this crisis for a long time, but the basis of our work is the same as always: organize and influence”.
Christy Hoffman, UNI General Secretary, congratulated Handels for its membership growth, saying:
“Handels has shown that, in these difficult times, the importance of a strong union becomes even more clear to commerce workers. Unions can and must continue to build power while fighting for better protection and rights for commerce workers on the frontlines.”