News from the world of higher education
News from the world of higher education

Differing views on working hours and leave in the collective agreement negotiations

The members need more flexibility regarding leave and greater clarity about their terms of employment. These are some of Saco-S's highest priorities in the ongoing collective agreement negotiations. The other party, the Swedish Association of Government Employers, says that employers need to have more powerto decide about working hours.

Robert Andersson, head of negotiations at SULF and vice chairman of Saco-S.

The collective bargaining process began in earnest when Saco-S and the Swedish Association of Government Employers exchanged demands before the summer. Now that both parties have analysed each other’s positions, and had summer holidays, they have sat down at the negotiating table.

For the other union negotiation organisations in the state sector, OFR/S, P, O and Seko, the collective agreements expire on 30 September. SULF does not negotiate independently, but is represented by Saco-S, which unlike the aforementioned organisations has an agreement that is open-ended.

Robert Andersson, head of negotiations at SULF and vice chair of Saco-S, is one of the people at the negotiating table. The open-ended agreement means that the parties do not really have to agree on anything, he says. “We are negotiating under an obligation to refrain from industrial action, which means that we do not have to agree to any changes at all. And it’s the same for the Swedish Association of Government Employers. But we have taken the opportunity to present our demands, and there are usually some changes every time we negotiate.”

The union wants to see a number of changes with regard to members’ leave. They want to ”increase the individual’s scope to influence their working time and recovery time”, so there needs to be more flexibility around leave, writes Saco-S in its demands.

Among the changes that they want to see are the possibility to take annual holiday leave for part of a day and an option to waive holiday pay supplements in favour of having more annual leave days. “This is something that happens elsewhere, under some other collective agreements,” says Andersson.

“We are highlighting the skills supply issues that exist in general in Sweden.”

The Swedish Association of Government Employers, on the other hand, says that employers need to have more power to decide about working hours. Their reason for this is that employers want to be prepared for a scenario where they can adapt their organisations and activities if the need arises. Separate working time regulations for doctoral candidates and teachers, for example, should not stand in the way of how an employer wants to organise working hours, they say.

“It’s a question of the employer having responsibility for an organisation that it needs to be able to run. Our universities and colleges must be able to conduct both education of students and research. It’s about making this work in a reasonable and acceptable way,” says Anna Falck head of negotiations at the Association of Government Employers.

She does not want to rank the employers’ demands in order and points out that the Association represents the state sector as a whole in the negotiations. “All our demands are important to us, but they can carry more weight in different areas. That being said, working time issues are important for all our employers. To find the right level to be able to fulfil our assignments and obligations and to be able to maintain our supply of skills and competence.”

With regard to leave of absence, Saco-S wants members with permanent employment to be able to take leave of absence for up to twelve months in order to try a job outside the state sector agreement area. Another demand from the union is that people who have permanent employment should be allowed to take leave to try another fixed-term job within the state sector. “We are highlighting the skills supply issues that exist in general in Sweden. We can see that it is difficult to attract enough and sufficiently competent people within the state sector. Therefore, the common thread of what needs to be done in our collective agreements needs to make the state more attractive as an employer,” says Robert Andersson.

When it comes to salary setting, that is regulated locally at each higher education institution, as the employers and unions agreed on an open-ended collective agreement many years ago. The Swedish Association of Government Employers does not want to deviate from this numberless agreement. “We think it is important that we have that in our central agreements,” says Anna Falck, “so that salaries and salary structures are decided locally.”

In its demands to the union, the employers’ organisation states that the collective agreement should facilitate ”local pay structures with a focus on performance and competence supply”, and that salaries should be set based on the respective employers’ financial situations.

Saco-S’s demands do not contain anything about wanting to return to having specified figures for salary increases, in contrast to other state-sector negotiation organisations. Seko and OFR/S, P, O have submitted demands for salary increases in line with the level set by the manufacturing sector.

Instead of salaries, Saco-S has focused on employment conditions, more flexible working hours and working environment issues in its demands, says SULF’s head of negotiations, Robert Andersson. “Since, according to the employers, the state should not be a market leader when it comes to salaries, we need to be able to attract competent people in other ways.”

The union believes, for example, that there is questionable use of probationary or trial employment in the state sector. It therefore wants to see greater clarity in the collective agreement regarding how, when and if probationary employment can be used.

“Trial employment can of course be good for both parties. What we are against is that it is being used routinely. If someone already has a job with a permanent contract elsewhere, it may be more difficult to attract them to take a position on a trial basis,” says Andersson.

The Swedish Association of Government Employers’ head of negotiations, Anna Falck, does not want to pre-empt the negotiations by commenting on the other party’s demands regarding trial employment. “Trial employment is regulated by the Employment Protection Act (LAS). I have not had that discussion with Saco-S yet, but it is up to them to explain to me what they think is not satisfactory in the existing provisions,” she says.

The union also wants to change the wording regarding special fixed-term employment, so that this type of employment becomes permanent employment after one year. As it stands now, the term twelve months is used, which is unclear as a month is consistently counted as 30 days, the union says. “As it is unclear, we think it will be easier if the rule says one year. We use the term ”year” in all other contexts with regard to fixed-term employment,” says Robert Andersson.

Anna Falck, head of negotiations at the Swedish Employment Agency.

What kind of agreement do the parties want?

Saco-S wants:
... members to be able to apply for holiday leave for part of a day and to allow holiday pay supplements to be exchanged for annual holiday leave days.
... the right for all permanent employees to take leave of absence for up to twelve months to try a job outside the state sector agreement area.
... the concept of unregulated working hours to be made clearer.
... special fixed-term employment regulated by the Employment Protection Act to become permanent employment after one year. The current wording says twelve months.
... the agreement to contain provisions regarding when probationary or trial employment can and cannot be used.
... the joint work of the employers and unions on local salary formation, working environment, co-determination and sustainable working life to continue.

The Association of Government Employers wants:
... special working time regulations for doctoral candidates and teachers not to be an obstacle to employers' ability to organise working hours.
... the period in which employees’ main holidays can be taken to be extended.
... supplementary parental leave benefit only to be available until the child reaches a certain age, and that the supplement should no longer be linked to how parental benefit is drawn.
... the right to salary for leave to move home to be terminated.
... compensation for pharmaceutical and medical care costs to be removed.
... reassigned or redeployed employees to have new salaries commensurate with their new duties.
... priority rules in redundancy processes (“last in, first out”) to be revised so that employment periods are calculated based on the time employed by the current employer rather than the time employed in the state sector as a whole.
... the period of notice in the event of a lack of work to be based on the above period of employment.

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