WARNING: If you are pro-union, don’t bother reading this. It will just piss you off.
I love this headline in the paper today “High lay-off notices ‘a deliberate tactic“. The copy goes onto explain “Swedish companies are serving redundancy notices in artificially high numbers as part of a tactic to circumvent employment protection laws, claims a chief analyst at the national job agency.”
The irony makes me smile, the hypocrisy makes me howl. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. The headline is accurate. Of course companies are exaggerating the effect of the recession to layoff all the deadbeat employees that the unions and labor laws would, under any other circumstances, prevent them from tossing into the street. Companies would be foolish not to. The shame of it is that in the rush to take advantage of this rare window of opportunity, some good people will undoubtedly be tossed out with the bad. Who knows, I may be a casualty next week.
Despite that, I suspect my company will take this opportunity to trim its ranks, and I’m glad for it. I work hard. I make my company considerably more money than they pay me in salary. And I’m OK with that. The only thing that irks me is showing up at work every morning and seeing several lazy colleagues who contribute nothing and collect the same pay simply because it would cost more in law suits and union headaches to fire them — and they know it.
The way the labor laws are set up in Sweden, performing your job is completely optional and at the discretion of the employee. One of my coworkers decided she wanted some time off (in addition to her 5 weeks vacation). First she took her five weeks. Then she came back to work for a few weeks and went to a doctor and said she was stressed. No symptoms, no exam, just her word. She was given a doctors pass for 1 year paid leave. This woman was not stressed. She barely put in 20 hours of work a week despite her full-time position. But she knew how to work the system, as do most people living here. The employer (who was obliged to give the woman back her job whenever she decided to return) emailed the woman to ask exactly what was it about the job that stressed her so much that she could be so incapacitated. The employer’s reasoning was if they didn’t know the cause then they couldn’t fix it and then it would happen all over again when she returned. A valid request. That email prompted the threat of legal action by her union. The assumption was that we all know that there is nothing wrong with her, so don’t go making waves
The days when employers exploited workers ended in Sweden over a century ago. Since then the tide has turned. Unions have taken the place of the gang bosses, mill owners and sweatshop operators. The unions, fronted by the workers, are considerably more empowered than the employers. A victory for the unions and a crushing defeat for Sweden and what companies it has left.
On any given day I would say 30% of our office is out. Top 5 excuses: 1) I’m sick 2) my kid is sick 3) my partner is sick so I must care for the child, 4) the school called and I must collect my child, 5) I’m stressed. Try justifying that with Sweden’s claim that their population is the healthiest and least stressed on Earth. You can’t, because in most cases (except #4) it had nothing to do with any of the reasons given above. The real reason was “I don’t feel like working today.”
I’ve worked in several countries but have never seen such bold and blatant abuse of a system as I have in Sweden. And its as if I was the first person to notice. Abusing your employer by any means available to you is so engrained in the Swedish psyche they treat is as a God-given right. Years of union-run media and socialist doctrine has shaped a national mindset the vilifies the whole concept of work as well as employers. I’m surprised anyone in Sweden even bothers to show up for work at all.
That is not to say all Swedes abuse their employers. But even those who do not partake seem to have limitless tolerance for those who do. And who is profiting amidst all this? Not the companies (because their margins suffer). Not the people (because they fund it with their taxes). The unions. Today the Swedish unions are the wealthiest entities in Sweden. They have become the very thing they were established to fight: corrupt profit mongering opportunists taking advantage of the poor masses and extorting anyone who gets in their way.
I do not make that claim lightly. In my previous job I spent 4 years negotiating with Swedish trade unions. I remember one company they decided to go after because the CEO had criticized them. Long story short: a union boss decided to punish the man by filing one baseless law suit after another against his company. It went on for years and got so ridiculous that one day the company’s lawyer approached the union’s lawyer in court and said “I don’t understand. The judge has just said you have no case, how do you expect to win?” The union lawyer replied “We don’t expect to win. But we will appeal and call each employee to the trial one by one for months. Then we’ll file more law suits and more appeals.” This wasn’t law. It was extortion carried out and sanctioned by the Swedish courts. They might as well have threatened to toss Molotov cocktails though the company’s windows if they didn’t pay protection money. Somehow that seems marginally more honest and ethical.
Given this, how can any Swede express indignation at the thought of a company using the recession as an excuse to fire deadbeats? It’s beyond me. Many Swedes make a career out of abusing their employer and are encouraged by their peers, politicians and unions to do so.
So here’s my advice to the indignant. Assuming your indignation is a by-product of what you see as your right to “use” the system, I suggest you do what you always do: accept your pink slip then simply sponge off the system as long as you can. When (and if) your unemployment benefits run dry, then (and only then) apply for job for which you are grossly under-qualified. After you are hired, work in a half-assed fashion until your trial period is over then revert back to business as usual – do nothing but pose and collect your paycheck until the next recession arrives.
For the rest of us Swedish workers, I suggest we work extra hard. How else will we be able to support all our fellow countrymen and women who choose to exercise their right to stay home and have us work for them?