Sweden: Unionen holds 5th Congress, denounces deportation of Belarusian labour leader

Unionen's 5th Congress, held ON 9-13 October in Karlstad, Sweden, addressed a variety of critical concerns and provided a strong statement on a variety of issues. Amongst the notable resolutions was a strong denunciation of Sweden's decision to deny Belarusian trade union activist Ala Tsvirko a residence permit, despite the persecution she experienced in her home country. 


On 10 October, a global and European panel involving the general secretaries and presidents of European and global union federations, including Peter Hellberg, from Unionen's leadership, was held. The panel’s deliberation ranged from corporate social responsibility and Swedish development aid to the role of the trade union movement in advancing global development. The discussion also delved into measures on how to increase trade union presence and strength in multinational corporations, as well as how European and global union federations can strengthen collective bargaining. 


Addressing the global peace issue, BWI President Per-Olof Sjöö reported on Profbud, BWI's affiliate in Ukraine, preparing the workforce for the colossal challenge of reconstructing the country. Trade union hubs have been developed to re-skill and up-skill workers in order to provide a competent workforce for Ukraine's safe and efficient reconstruction. Sjöö emphasized the necessity of these workers being respected and fairly compensated, and he advocated support for labor norms and conditions in restoration projects.


The Congress also grappled with the changing labour market scenario, which was fueled by the fast digital transformation. It emphasised the risks of blurring the lines between workers’ work and leisure time, as well  as the dangers posed digitalisation to workers’ privacy. In her keynote speech, Paulina Brandberg, Sweden's Minister for Gender Equality and Deputy Minister for Employment, stressed the importance of government and social partners adapting regulations and agreements to maintain good working conditions and environments, both in traditional workplaces and remote settings. She stressed that the most important labour market issue for Sweden is workers’ competence and how to make sure that the building of a better society responds to the challenges of shortage of skilled labour force.


The Congress concluded with Unionen setting forth a new four-year action plan that outlines a strategic direction on the organising of workers that builds their influence and strength, makes membership to Unionen more attractive, and ensure an active advocacy work.


The Congress delegates elected Peter Hellberg as the new president of Unionen, previously serving as the 1st Vice President. Martin Linder concluded his twelve-year tenure on Unionen's board, including eight years as president.


Unionen is Sweden's largest trade union in the private labor market and the largest white-collar trade union with 690,000 members. Of its total membership, 27,000 serve as elected representatives. Unionen is affiliated with BWI, EFBWW, and several other global unions.


BWI was represented in the event by Sjöö and Jasmin Redzepovic, BWI Policy Director for Building Materials. The global union congratulated Unionen and the newly elected leadership for a successful Congress.