Union struggle for working environment
How does TCO work to improve the working environment? Ulrika Hagström – TCO’s investigator in the field – explains how TCO today works with work environment issues.
Faces look familiar. The old TCO chairmen look down at me from both walls. They are painted and the paintings hang in one of the meeting rooms in TCO-huset in central Stockholm. Opposite me is Ulrika Hagström – investigator at TCO on issues of work environment and equal opportunities in working life. Why are the paintings hanging here? It turns out they haven’t been in the rooms that long:
”They’ve been in the boardroom before,” she explains.
It was when the current chairman Eva Nordmark took office seven years ago that she decided to transfer the large number of mainly male representatives to the smaller meeting rooms instead.
Eva Nordmark is driving gender equality issues. Ulrika Hagström as well. The latter started working at TCO at the turn of the millennium in 2000. Skindeep, she is a trained sociologist. I am interested to know more about her work with health and safety issues. What has she been working on so far? Ulrika talks about how unsanitary rates increased in Sweden after the 1990s cuts in the public sector. When she joined TCO, she had to work on investigating the reasons for this increase. The so-called ”limitless working life” – that more and more people had the opportunity to work from home – was then a new phenomenon. And there were problems with some working a lot of overtime that they then didn’t get paid for. Since then, she has worked with gender equality issues, issues that she is partly still working on at the same time as the work environment issue. How does her work work in practical terms?
TCO would like to produce new interesting reports, she says. During periods when there were forces that wanted to remove LAS (Lagen om anställnings-skydd, the Employment Protection Act) it has been interesting to investigate how common it is that you cannot lay people off because of LAS. And then you see that it is a very small problem for employers in practice, she says. Such a report TCO then uses to strengthen the arguments for LAS.
Another example is the ”Dad Index”. When TCO did this, they used the Swedish Social Insurance Agency’s collected data on how much of the parental leave is used by men. Among these facts is an account of each county in Sweden. Local newspapers often find it fun to write about what it looks like in their county. Then TCO can latch onto the idea and explain that the organization thinks it is important to have another reserved month to get a more equal labour market, she adds with meaning.
Medbestämmandelagen (the Law on Co-determination)
TCO and LO nourished such high hopes when the Law on Co-determination (MBL) was passed in 1976. How’s it been since? Ulrika is not fully familiar with the issue, she says. But she believes that today there are more people who choose to have ”collaboration” with the employer instead of clear MBL-talks and meetings. Is this a development being discussed at the TCO Office?
”No, we have not actually had any discussion regarding MBL at our cabinet meetings when we discuss current political issues,” Ulrika quickly responds. MBL is not much discussed, one might assume. But at the same time, issues of influence are something that are talked a lot about within TCO ranks. Influence has long been an important factor for health at work, which was further updated with the two-year and a few-month-old regulations on Organisatorisk och social arbetsmiljö (OSA-föreskrifterna, guidelines on organizational and social working environment). Before these regulations came into being, there was talk of psychosocial work environment. This meant that there was a focus on the individual. The new legislation is based on shortcomings in the organizational and social work environment instead. TCO says this is an important difference.
Can Ulrika give any examples of good work environment management? She says that every year Unionen awards the award Guldnappen (e.g. The Golden Pacifier) to a workplace that in a formidable way worked in favour of a pro-parental working life. And she believes that the activities awarded to Guldnappen are workplaces that are good at work environment management as well. These employers are interested in having a dialogue with their workers about what can be improved in the workplace, she says.
The worst work environment occurs in smaller workplaces where it is often more difficult to find someone who wants to stand as a safety representative or trade union representative. Ulrika stresses the importance of systematic work environment management in the workplace. Examining: ”How are you?” ”Is there anything in the workplace that can be improved?”. Then you should regularly follow up on the work. In a workplace where this is done, you can see that the employees are healthier, she claims.
But then there can be small workplaces where there is systematic work environment management without it being called that. In some smaller units within e.g. healthcare, you can see that there is a lower sick leave rate because the employees are more seen by the employer. If you have fewer employees per manager, it can be a ”healthy factor”. One disadvantage of larger workplaces is that it can become more unclear in the organization with responsibilities and priorities.
What are the main challenges for trade union work today? Ulrika says that there are two things that have changed recently. One thing that has happened in the last 10-15 years is that it has become increasingly common for safety representatives to encounter negative attitudes from the employer in the work environment work. It didn’t happen very often in the past. The other important challenge is that it has become more difficult to get people to take on union positions of trust.
Equal opportunities in working life
We move on to the issue of equal opportunities in working life. I ask her about the aftermath of the methoo movement. What has the union done because of metoo? Ulrika says that TCO has launched a new manual to help elected representatives and safety representatives. It was created to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. She says that there are rules in the Discrimination Act that say that you should work preventively so that no one has to experience discrimination. The law states that equal opportunities should be promoted for all regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, functionality or age. At the same time, there is parallel legislation in the Work Environment Act’s regulations on a good organizational and social work environment. It highlights that no one should have to experience bullying or negative discrimination.
”What is new in the newly published manual is that we combine the OSA regulations with the requirements of the Discrimination Act on preventive measures against discrimination.”
Now there is a manual for trade unionists so that they can work both preventively and act if something inappropriate happens.
Does she believe in a link between the trend that collective rights for workers have been weakened, while individual rights (grounds for discrimination) have recently been emphasized more strongly? She personally believes that the two tendencies need not have to do with each other. The weakening of the sense of the employee collective does not have to be related to, for example, women and homosexuals being better off, she says. Instead, the two trends may have appeared a little in parallel.
After the interview Ulrika shows me the other meeting rooms on the third floor of the TCO building. Portraits of the male chairmen hang in the next rooms. The rooms are named after all five TCO chairmen since 1970. For example, the room opposite is called ”Björn”:
”It’s named after the former chairman Björn Rosengren,” she says.
Then she shows me the work environment upstairs. There are those who are now responsible for TCO’s various policy areas one after the other in a very modern office landscape.
By Leif Jacobsson
Master of Philosophy in social anthropology and co-worker at TAM-Arkiv
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