Owners withdrew the pay raise – the union said "tough luck"

The American owners felt that the staff had not performed well enough, and therefore rejected salary increases. That's when the union brought out the collective agreement and said, "tough luck, that's not how we do it in Sweden."

Detta är ett innehåll från Unionen Opinion.

Publicerad 24 jan. 2024

David Karlsson, club chairman at Semantix.

A few years ago, the translation and language technology company Semantix got new American owners. In 2023, they were not satisfied with the company's performance and announced that there would be no salary increases. At all. Zero kronor.
– The union club then had to explain that tough luck, in Sweden, you can't do that. Our members get 4.1 percent and not a penny less, according to the negotiated agreement “märket.” We got it thanks to our collective agreement, while our colleagues in Norway, Denmark, and Finland went without. Those working for the company here in Sweden but not Union members got some salary increase, but nowhere near the guidelines; others were completely zeroed because the salary agreement only applied to Union members, says David Karlsson, club chairman at Semantix.

David Karlsson notes that since then, more people have understood the importance of being unionized. Out of about 150 employees in Sweden, over 100 are now members of the Union club.

– It's times like these when people understand what the union does and what collective agreements are good for, says David Karlsson.

Can't take back the candy bag you've offered

In the tech industry, discussions about the existence of collective agreements have been ongoing for some years. In the fall of 2023, Klarna finally announced that they are signing a collective agreement. Spotify and others still remain skeptical. Companies often claim that they already have great benefits for their employees. Martin Wästfelt, chief negotiator at the Union, says that Semantix is an excellent example of why collective agreements are good security to have – even when the company promises you the moon.

– To boil it down, the difference between having and not having a collective agreement is that benefits are not at the employer's discretion, says Martin Wästfelt. With a collective agreement, the company cannot suddenly change its mind and take back the candy bag it offered.

Martin Wästfelt, Unionens förhandlingschef

– What is agreed upon stands. Without a collective agreement, however, benefits can be taken away.

A salary increase can be such a benefit; company pension is another.

– Many employers voluntarily sign up for the company pension for their employees, but sometimes companies face financial problems and cannot afford to continue paying the premium. In that situation, as an individual, you are protected if the company has a collective agreement. Then there is a common system that ensures you still get money for the company pension.

Collective agreement, good even for those with high salaries

Many employees at these tech companies have relatively high salaries, and it is sometimes said that collective agreements are mainly good for people with low salaries. Is that true?

– No. For those in a weaker position, the agreement may be more important since the collective agreement sets a limit on how low wages employers can pay. But it's a baseline and protection. However, there is no ceiling on how high salaries or good benefits the company can provide its employees.

It's about the right to be treated fairly

Martin Wästfelt adds that the collective agreement is also about the right to be treated in a fair and just manner – something that may become more important in a world where employers like Klarna and Tesla are testing the limits.

– It's easy to take it for granted here in Sweden since nine out of ten Swedes have a collective agreement, but I think people are beginning to realize that without one employers can do what, for example, Klarna did when they sent out a pre-recorded video where the CEO announced that ten percent of the staff would have to leave, they asked employees to stay home (to prevent them from talking to each other), and a few hours later, people were disconnected from the IT system. For many, they crossed the line of what we can accept, says Martin Wästfelt.