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The Nordics, the EU and the climate

| By Björn Lindahl, editor-in-chief

New labour ministers have recently been appointed in three of the Nordic countries. In Finland and Denmark as a result of elections, in Sweden because the government nominated Ylva Johansson to a role as a new EU commissioner.

In our portraits of Denmark’s Peter Hummelgaard and Finland’s Timo Harakka, the Nordic Labour Journal highlights the challenges facing the two men. We portrayed Eva Nordmark in 2011  when she became chair of the TCO, the second biggest of Sweden's three major trade union confederations. She also participated at the Council of Nordic Trade Unions’ congress in Malmö on 3-4 September, only days before she took up her new post as Sweden’s Minister for Employment. 

Her message to the congress was the same as the one she delivered when she became the TCO chair:

The trade union movement must remain relevant in a new era, and must grow and become stronger. That is the only way it can gain influence.

While the congress was in session, Foodora riders in Oslo were striking. This is the first major strike in what is known as the platform economy – where customer demand is matched via an app with those delivering services. The strike has led to a rush of bikers who want to become trade union members. The striking riders want their own collective agreement. If they succeed, it will prove that at least parts of the new economy can exist within the Nordic labour market model.

A major Nordic project is looking at how the new economy impacts on work. Tomas Berglund from the University of Gothenburg, one of the project’s researchers, sees a polarisation in the labour market, with the growth of high-skilled jobs and a fall in the number of low-skilled jobs. Jobs in the middle are disappearing to artificial intelligence and automation.

But there are no jobs on a dead planet, as many pointed out at the NFS congress in Malmö. Climate change has become one of the biggest issues for the trade union movement too. Moving to a fossil-free society means major change. Trade unions must therefore make sure the change happens in a just manner.  

“As governments and trade unions, we must make sure that what we do about climate change does not lead to more hardship in the lives of normal people,” Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir told the congress.

Thanks to high membership levels, Nordic trade unions retain a lot of influence in the European Trade Union Congress too. Their General Secretary Luca Visentini was present at the congress, and promised not to accept any minimum wage legislation within the EU that would impact negatively on the Nordic collective agreement model.

The Nordic trade unions are probably disappointed that Ylva Johansson, known as Europe’s most experienced minister for employment, did not get that post on the EU Commission. Instead, she got the migration and refugee portfolio, one of the toughest jobs for any commissioner. Denmark’s Margrethe Vestager continues in her role as Commissioner for Competition, but also gets responsibility for digitalisation. Finland’s Jutta Urpilainen is the new Commissioner for International Partnerships.

Fatal workplace accidents were one of the issues Ylva Johansson highlighted during her last months as Minister for Employment. One example of how the Nordic countries learn from each other is Sweden’s new safety training park which is being constructed near Arlanda. We have visited the Finnish safety training park in Espoo, which was the first of its kind in Europe. 

Finally, for those who want to sink their teeth into a complicated problem – read Kerstin Ahlberg’s comment on how national insurance contributions influence competition between local and posted labour!


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