PRESENTATION OF THE SWEDISH LABOUR COURT
The Swedish Labour Court is a special court set up to hear and rule on labour-related disputes. A labour dispute is any dispute which affects the relationship between employers and employees.
Certain types of labour dispute may be brought directly before the labour court. In such cases the labour court has exclusive jurisdiction. In other types of dispute claims must be brought before the ordinary county court. If any party is dissatisfied with the county court's judgement they can lodge an appeal with the labour court. In either case the judgement of the labour court is the final judgement in the dispute since labour court judgements cannot be appealed.
The labour court is a normal court in the sense that it is financed from public funds. Members of the court are appointed by the government. The individual parties in a dispute have no influence whatsoever over the composition of the court. In addition, the court also follows largely the same judicial process as the general courts. The Code of Judicial Procedure applies to the labour court.
JURISDICTION OF THE LABOUR COURT
Two conditions must be met for a labour dispute to be brought directly before the labour court. The claim must be lodged by an employer organisation or employee organisation or by an employer who has entered into a collective agreement on an individual basis. In addition, the case must concern a dispute arising from a collective agreement, a dispute relating to the law concerning the right to participation in decision-making (such as disputes relating to the freedom of association or the right to negotiate), a dispute between parties who are bound by a collective agreement, or a dispute relating to a place of work where a collective agreement is in force. If any of these conditions are not met the claim must be brought in the county court and any subsequent appeal will be heard before the labour court.
A few examples may serve to explain the regulations applicable to this jurisdiction. (1) If a non-union affiliated employee wishes to bring a claim against his employer, that employee must always lodge the claim with the county court. If the employee is union affiliated it is up to the union to bring the claim direct to the labour court if a collective agreement is in force at the place of work. If the organisation is unwilling to pursue a claim on behalf of its member - the organisation may believe that the individual is in the wrong - the employee can bring a claim himself in the county court. (2) In one particular work place the employer may have entered into a collective agreement with a trade union representing the employees which affiliated to the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO). One employee belongs to another employee organisation. Any dispute about the employee's rights will be heard and ruled on directly by the labour court if the claim is made by his organisation. (3) An employer belonging to an employers' organisation wishes to claim back excess wages paid out to a non-union affiliated employee. A collective agreement exists between the employers' organisation and a trade union. The wages claim will be heard and ruled on directly by the labour court and should be brought by the employers' organisation against the employee in question.
COMPOSITION OF THE LABOUR COURT
When hearing a case the labour court generally consists of seven members. In more straightforward cases, however, the court may consist of only three members. Furthermore the chairman can decide by himself on preparatory measures, strike out or stay a case, etc., where clear procedural bars exist.
In the usual seven-member court there are three neutral members plus two members representing the interests of the employer and two representing employee interests.
Among the three neutral members - those who cannot be considered to represent either employer or employee interests - are the chairman and vice chairman. These three members, often known as "official" members, are individuals with long experience in the judiciary. The third member of the group has specialist expertise in labour market issues. This person often holds an prominent position in a government department or the like.
The three-member court consists of a chairman plus one representative each for employer and employee interests.
When hearing cases (excluding full hearings) which essentially involve matters other than labour law, such as procedural issues, the court has the jurisdiction to arrive at decisions with three members who have legal training.
Occasionally the seven-member court may be replaced by one made up of six or five members. This may occur when members are suddenly unable to attend, for example if they fall ill during a hearing. There must, however, always be an equal number of employer and employee representative members.
Of the members only the chairman is engaged full time in the court and therefore employed by the court. Other members serve in the court on an occasional basis alongside their usual employment.
Given the fact that members generally serve in the labour court in addition to their other employment, they may serve only on a relatively limited basis. In order to fulfil its caseload, the labour court therefore has considerably more members than it needs to hear and decide on a case at any given time.
All together there are, in effect, no less than 25 members of the labour court. These include four chairmen, four vice-chairmen and three members with specialist experience of the labour market. Of the other members, seven represent the interests of employers and seven those of employees, ensuring a balance. When the court convenes, there must always be an equal number of members from either side.
For each member other than the chairman there are three stand-ins. The vice-chairmen serve as stand-ins for the chairmen. It sometimes happens that both a member and his stand-in are prevented from serving. In such a case the chairman has the right to appoint a temporary stand-in.
Members and stand-ins are appointed by the government for a period of three years. The appointments are usually extended for a longer period. It should also be noted that the three full-time chairmen are also appointed for only three years at a time.
Of those members who represent employer and employee interests, thirteen are appointed by the principal organisations in the labour market. Four members are proposed by the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, one by the Swedish Association of Local Authorities, one by the Swedish Federation of County Councils, four by LO, the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, two by TCO, the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees, and one by SACO, the Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations. The fourteenth member is appointed without a specific mandate as a representative for the state as employer.
Member stand-ins are appointed in the same way.
For the court to be deemed to be composed in the most suitable way possible for an individual case the court is subject to certain composition regulations. If the case concerns an issue of significance for the labour market as a whole, such as the application of labour related legislation, a so-called general composition is used. Otherwise so-called special compositions are convened. In addition to the three official members, a general composition includes one member for the SAF, one representative for the public sector employers, one for LO, and one for either TCO or SACO. For special compositions members are chosen from the sector of the labour market in which the dispute arises.
Customary rules apply in the labour court in respect of objections to members. This means that a member with links to either of the parties in a particular case is barred from serving in that case. In a dispute, say, between the Engineering Employers' Association and the Metal Workers' Union, an employee or official for either of these organisations is not allowed to serve as a member of the court. On the other hand there is nothing to prevent anyone from serving who has affiliations to any SAF or LO-affiliated organisations other than the Engineering Employers Association or Metal Workers' Union.
The court employs a number of junior court lawyers, usually Assistant Justices of the Court of Appeal, known as secretaries. Their role is to assist the chairman in managing the case and preparing judgements. The court also has its own office with staff who deal with administrative and general office matters.
WHAT HAPPENS IN THE LABOUR COURT?
The labour court applies standard court procedures. Basically it is up to the parties themselves to present their case to the court. The representations of the parties are the deciding factors for the court in that the court may not pass judgement on anything other than that which has been presented, and also due to the fact that a claim cannot be rejected on the grounds of an objection which the party against whom the claim has been brought has not actually raised. The parties themselves must present the oral and written evidence they wish to rely on. The court plays an active part in the process by asking questions of the parties and making observations. This enables the parties to eradicate any shortcomings or anything unclear in their legal arguments or their versions of the course of events.
Claims in the labour court, like claims in a general court, may vary considerably in content. Typically the applicant, i.e. the party bringing the claim, requests the court to order the respondent to pay a sum of money. There may also be claims, for example, for dismissal to be declared invalid, for the respondent to forfeit something, e.g. for an employee to return a tool to his employer on completion of his employment, or to prohibit certain activities, e.g. to discontinue a strike. Such a claim usually involves the party requesting the court to declare that an agreement, usually a collective agreement, has a certain significance in a disputed context. Judgements of the labour court can be enforced through the auspices of public bodies in the same way as any other judgement.
Certain specific regulations apply to the labour court as to who is allowed to appear as a party in cases brought before the labour court in the first instance. If the case concerns the rights of an employee belonging to a trade union or a company affiliated to an employers' organisation, the case must be brought before the labour court by the respective trade union or employers' organisation. Similarly the organisation must be summoned to appear as the respondent alongside the individual. Two examples may help to elucidate the above. (1) A worker in an engineering company affiliated to the Engineering Employers Association considers that his wages have been too low. The dispute cannot be solved through negotiation. The worker's organisation, the Metal Workers' Union, must subsequently bring a claim both against the company and the Engineering Employers Association. (2) A strike breaks out among the salaried employees at a wholesaler. The employers consider that the strike is unlawful and demand damages. The wholesaler's employers' organisation must subsequently bring a claim in the labour court against each of the striking salaried employees and their union organisation.
Proceedings in the labour court are set in motion when the applicant applies in writing to issue proceedings against the respondent. The application must include an account of the disputed issue and the particulars of the claim. The court issues a notice of appearance to the respondent, i.e. it orders the respondent to comment orally or in writing on the content of the application.
The obligation of the respondent to comment constitutes the beginning of the prehearing. The prehearing is intended to investigate the facts and the representations of the parties as far as possible. The first thing to establish is the respondent's attitude to the claims. He may perhaps admit them wholly or in part. The prehearing also aims to ascertain what is actually disputed between the parties in terms of the facts. This is important in allowing the parties to know what they must be expected to prove in the case.
The prehearing can be oral or in writing, usually a combination of both: the respondent is ordered to comment in writing on the content of the application, following which an oral prehearing meeting is held under the supervision of the chairman. If the case involves a dispute on appeal from the county court, there is usually no oral prehearing. It sometimes happens that the chairman, during the prehearing, attempts to get the parties to reach an amicable settlement. Disputes can quite frequently be resolved in settlement.
Once a prehearing is complete there is normally a full hearing held before all the members of the court taking part in the case, normally seven. During the full hearing the representatives for either party present their account of the course of events, i.e. present their cases. Evidence is subsequently submitted. This takes the form of statements from the parties or their representatives, examining witnesses under oath and examination of documents, such as the minutes of negotiations. Visual or expert evidence may also be submitted. Summing up on the part of the representatives, in which they make their submissions on to how the case should be decided, brings the hearing to an end. During the hearing the court members naturally put questions to the parties and the witnesses. The main hearing formally concludes with the chairman stating when the judgement will be announced.
In the judgement the court presents the parties' accounts of the events and its own views on the dispute. The judgement ends with a decision on the case.
Hearings in the labour court are free of charge in the sense that neither party has to pay to bring a case or to be granted judgement. On the other hand, the parties naturally incur costs for instructing representatives, for witnesses, travel to the court, etc. These costs often amount to large sums. In general the losing party is ordered to pay costs for the winning side in addition to his own costs. However, it is possible for the court to adjust the obligation to pay costs or to declare that each party must bear its own costs. This occurs if the court considers that the losing party had good reasons to adopt his position, even though these were insufficient to win the case. Moreover, both parties might have a strong interest in obtaining a ruling from the court on a point of dispute, in which case it is reasonable for both of them to pay their own costs.
Naturally, the time it takes to resolve a dispute in the labour court may vary depending on the nature of the case. Normally it takes around six months from the time that an application is received until a judgement is passed. In urgent circumstances, cases can be resolved in a considerably shorter time.
PUBLICATION OF LABOUR COURT JUDGEMENTS
Each party to a case receives a copy of the court's judgement.
On the same day that a judgement is announced the court also sends copies of the judgement to the principal organisations in the labour market. National newspapers, the Swedish Central News Agency (TT), the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation and the trade union press, etc., also receive copies of the judgement at the same time.
All judgements of general interest also appear in the publication "Arbetsdomstolens Domar" (Judgements of the Swedish Labour Court). This is published both in loose-leaf format once per month and as a final yearbook. The yearbook is published in May of the following year. In this way a judgement is generally available in published form a month or so after it is announced. "Arbetsdomstolens Domar" is available from the customer service section of the Fritze publishing company. In conjunction with this publication a number of lists of judgements over a period of years is also published. The latest list covers the years 1951-1993.
Summaries of the labour court judgements are published regularly in the magazine Lag & Avtal (Law and Agreements), published by Stiftelsen Arbetsrätslig Tidskrift, in which SAF, LO, TCO and SACO are represented.
The number of cases brought before the labour court has varied over the years. In recent years the number of cases each year has numbered roughly between 400 and 450. The annual number of judgements passed is roughly between 150 and 160. A relatively high number of cases are withdrawn in the early stages as the parties reach an amicable settlement.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO VISIT THE LABOUR COURT?
The Swedish Labour Court has its offices in Stockholm. The visiting address is Stora Nygatan 2A & 2B, postal address: Box 2018, S-103 11, Stockholm. The telephone number is +46 (0)8-617 66 00. There are meeting rooms at the offices.
Court proceedings are public. It is therefore possible for anyone to go in and listen to the proceedings. Study groups wishing to visit the labour court should give good notice in advance by telephoning the court office.
ORIGINS AND HISTORY THE SWEDISH LABOUR COURT
The Swedish Labour Court came into existence on 1 January 1929 following the 1928 Collective Agreements Act, which first proposed such a body. The court's primary task was to deal with disputes on the interpretation and application of collective agreements and disputes relating to the non-strike regulations of the Collective Agreements Act. Originally the court consisted of a chairman, vice-chairman and a third member (the so-called "official" members), plus two members from SAF and two from LO.
The first major change occurred in 1947 when salaried employees in the private sector were granted representation in the labour court. In cases where salaried employee organisations represented the employee one of the two LO members was replaced by one from TCO.
From 1966 onwards it became possible for public sector salaried employees to enter into collective agreements. This resulted in representation in the labour court for the state as employer in basically the same way as for private sector salaried employees. In cases involving salaried employees from the public sector the court consisted, in addition to the three official members, of one SAF member, one employer member from the public sector, one LO member and one from TCO. The right for SACO to propose stand-ins for TCO members and thus to be represented in the labour court was introduced along with the 1966 reform.
The majority of the current regulations were introduced on 1 July 1974.
However, certain minor changes were made on 1 July 1977. The most important of these meant that from that date onwards individuals could not bring claims (yet could be the respondent) in the labour court. Previously this was possible for trade union member employees whose union was not prepared to take up claims on their behalf. Nowadays employees in such cases are required to bring a claim in the county court. The judgement of the county court may subsequently be appealed to the labour court.
Since 1 July 1992, SACO's representation has changed in that the organisation is now entitled to propose a member of the labour court.