The Legal Bureau of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation

Legal service based on trade union membership in Sweden.

The right for a member of a Labour Union in Sweden to obtain legal aid is stated in the statutes of all the unions.

Legal service is awarded, subject to a prior decision taken by the executive body of the respective national union. In the majority of cases this is done in the following manner. The national union concerned, appoints a lawyer from LO-TCO Rättsskydd AB to assist the members affected by a dispute. The national union pays all of the costs caused by the dispute i.e. the work of the lawyer as well as the possible costs of the counterpart.

Legal service is normally granted in the following cases, i.e.:

  • Disputes with the employer.
  • Crimes committed at the workplace.
  • Issues related to social security such as the right to indemnity in cases of; occupational injuries, sickness benefit, disability pension etcetera.
  • Indemnity for injuries caused by the employer.
  • Other legal disputes directly linked to employment.

The nature of existing labour legislation, results in the respective national union being considered part of a dispute, when it concerns the rights of an individual member of the union.

The legal bureau LO-TCO Rättsskydd AB

LO-TCO Rättsskydd AB is usually described as the trade unions’ own lawyers’ office. It is a joint stock company, in which 90 percent of the shares are owned by the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO), thus indirectly by the national unions affiliated to the LO, and 10 percent are owned by The Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees, (TCO).

LO-TCO Rättsskydd AB gives legal assistance and service to LO, TCO and the LO and TCO affiliates and other trade unions. This means that, after decisions in their Swedish trade union organisation, about 3,5 million trade union members, can get support in legal affairs related to their work.

LO-TCO Rättsskydd AB employs a total of 45-50 people. The lawyers are working in two different departments.

  1. Department of Occupational Injuries and Social Insurance.
  2. Department of labour and crime law.

These two departments have the following functions:

  1. Department of Occupational Injuries and Social Insurance

With the help of consulting medical experts the lawyers in the above department represent the members of the unions before the authorities making decisions concerning the right to social insurance’s, before the court and the High Court deciding in these matters. If a person employed by a company, not covered by collective no fault accident and sickness insurance’s, is hit by an accident, the lawyers of this department represent him/her in the negotiations with the insurance company of the employer concerned or in court.

This department handles about 600 cases every year.

  1. Department of labour and criminal law.

This department handles cases concerning labour relation disputes and represents the union and its members in court. The department also handles criminal cases where a member of the union is persecuted for a crime he or she is suspected of having committed in connection with his or her work. An example could be when a worker causes injuries to, or the death of, a fellow worker. The department also deals with company law, civil law and law of bankruptcy.

This department handles at the moment approximately 500 each year.

Disputes arising at the place of work are subjected to negotiations, in the first place at plant level, between the employer and the union. If no agreement is reached there will often be negotiations at national level following which the case can be presented to the court. The case normally goes directly to the national special court for labour disputes, the Labour Court in Stockholm. There is only one labour court in Sweden.

Normally the need for legal assistance only occurs in a court. This also means that the cases submitted to LO-TCO Rättsskydd AB are cases of importance and might serve as pilot cases for the future. LO-TCO Rättsskydd AB represents one of the parties involved in about 35 percent of all cases submitted to the Labour Court.

Thus, LO-TCO Rättsskydd AB works like any lawyer’s office; they charge the unions for the work according to a fixed rate per hour laid down each year.

The lawyers also give legal advice on telephone to the trade union officials employed by the unions. This is normally free of charge. Every day one lawyer at each department is responsible for answering telephone questions.

The total net cost of LO-TCO Rättsskydd AB, i.e. for the two departments and for the internal administration, amounted last year to about 65 million SEK. The last years the lawyers of the company secured compensations to the client/the trade union members of about 150-200 million SEK.