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Tripartite negotiations as a model for the green transition

| By Björn Lindahl, Editor-in-chief

The fight for a just green transition is taking place in several and very different arenas. While strike guards brave the cold of winter outside Tesla workshops in Sweden and climate negotiators meet in the heat of Dubai, Nordic employers, trade unions and government ministers gathered in Reykjavik.

All these three events are about the environment. Tesla was long a symbol for those who believe technology will save the climate.

But the American car company that kickstarted the EV development might not have survived without generous politicians in Norway – a country that at times has been Tesla’s biggest market. That is where it became possible to test on a large scale what is needed to electrify an entire fleet of cars.

People buying EVs in Norway saved tens of thousands of euros in fees, paid nothing on toll roads, could use the bus lane and parked and charged their cars very cheaply.

Now, the Swedish trade union IF Metall has been organising strikes among Tesla employees since October. They want a collective agreement. “Tesla employees deserve fair and secure working conditions just like anyone else in the Swedish labour market,” as IF Metall puts it.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission requires all publicly traded companies to describe the risks associated with their operations in what is called the 10-K form. In 2022, Tesla included relations with labour unions as one of the risks.

“Although we work diligently to provide the best possible work environment for our employees, they may still decide to join or seek recognition to form a labor union, or we may be required to become a union signatory,” wrote the company.

The contrast to Reykjavik is great, where the Icelandic government hosted a tripartite meeting about the green transition on 1 December. In the Nordics, employers and trade unions do not see each other as enemies. Icelandic employers and trade unions explained how they worked together to reach an agreement on how employees might gain further education or retrain. That way, they can hopefully fill the enormous skills gap created by the green transition.

The government ministers, trade unions and employers also produced a memorandum of understanding which defines what is a just green transition. They agreed that the ILO’s guidelines on just transition should be “the central reference for policymaking and a basis for action”.

Perhaps the Nordic memorandum of understanding still has time to influence talks at COP28 in Dubai, where a Just Transition Work Programme is being negotiated. 

The Reykjavik meeting is special, since there is no common Nordic employers’ organisation, unlike the workers’ Council of Nordic Trade Unions and the politicians’ Nordic Council of Ministers. The agreement will hopefully lead to closer tripartite cooperation on a Nordic level too. 

We delve into the history of cooperation between employers, and got some written answers, at least, from the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise on the current situation. 

The Reykjavik meeting also marked the end of Iceland’s Presidency, which has been run forcefully and with much energy by the Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, who is also the Minister for Nordic Cooperation.

Sweden takes over in 2024, the year of the 70th anniversary of the Nordic common labour market. Nordregio has been commissioned to write a report on what the open labour market has meant.

The fact that it is open, does not mean everyone can access it. A Nordic research project describes the barriers that exist preventing people from finding work.

Cooperation in the Nordic labour market also means being paid the correct rate. In the bus transport sector, it has emerged that companies from low-wage countries systematically carry out inland traffic in the Nordic region – at the wages applicable in the country of origin.

Bus companies in Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden have written a joint letter to the EU Commission demanding clear rules to prevent social dumping.

Finally, we also analyse the consequences of Åland’s elections, both in terms of a new autonomy act and possible representation in the EU.


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