This article appeared originally in Swedish on the website for Sveriges Television, the Swedish national public television broadcaster. View the original Swedish article and watch the video in English and Swedish here.
300 workers at an IKEA store in Canada have been without a job for seven months during a protracted conflict between the union and the employer. The company has lost its Swedish values, they say, and now they visit Sweden to meet IKEA’s founder Ingvar Kamprad.
Keith Austin and Grant Coleman stands and hands out leaflets outside the IKEA store in the King curve south of Stockholm. They have traveled all the way from Vancouver in Canada to tell the world and Sweden the way they are treated by IKEA. Ideally, they want to meet Ingvar Kamprad, but have had to settle for handing out flyers and talking to Swedish trade unions.
Keith Austin has worked at the IKEA store in Richmond in Vancouver for 27 years. He has always appreciated the employer but when the collective agreement expired for less than a year ago, it was suddenly all-new noises.
– The biggest problem is wages. They want to lower starting salaries.They want to make the conditions in many different ways, such as cutting in the life insurance and remove half of sick days, he says.
Without a job for seven months
On 13 May this year the company broke the negotiations and unilaterally introduced the new terms. 300 of the 350 employees at the store refused to accept it. They see themselves as locked out and have been without a job for seven months now while the conflict lasted. For Keith, his wife has a well paid job. But for others it’s tougher.
– Some can not pay their bills, some may turn to charities. Some of us can not handle repayments and incur liabilities, says Keith Austin.
SVT: Is it worth the price to fight this battle?
– Yes, the employees are very definite that we can never accept an agreement like this. For we know that it never ends. Can we agree to these cuts as we sit there at the negotiating table in three years again with new impairments.
IKEA in Canada: “We have been generous”
IKEA Sweden mentioning that there is an issue between the union and IKEA in Canada, has a very different picture of the conflict.
– They are welcome back whenever they want. We have sat down with the union and offered four fair and generous offers, but they returned with unreasonable demands, says Madeleine Lowenborg-Frick, Director of Communications at IKEA in Canada.
She argues, moreover, that it is strange that an employee and a union representative went to Sweden instead of bargaining in Canada.
– We think it is a shame that the union sets off a global campaign, instead of coming up with a reasonable offer so people can get back to work.
“Have lost touch with the core values”
The decor and the meatballs are the same at IKEA stores around the world – but the way the staff is treated differ. In recent years the company has been criticized in several places, including France, where three of the top officials are under investigation for spying on employees.
One report notes two international unions say that the company lost contact with the Swedish basic values and that the further away from Sweden IKEA establishes itself, the more likely it is that they violate the right of employees to join unions.
– We are here in Sweden because we know that what happens in Vancouver, with IKEA’s way of trying to break the unions can become global if successful. And it is about Sweden also, said Grant Coleman, a representative of the Teamsters union in Canada, who followed on the trip across the Atlantic.
“IKEA will suffer”
Several international unions, including the Nordic Transport Workers’ Federation and the Ministry of Trade, have backed the Teamsters. Next Tuesday are scheduled solidarity demonstrations in ports around the world where IKEA ships goods.
– When this becomes global, we will be going from solidarity to action.This will affect all the Ikea stores worldwide. They will suffer loss as never before, says Grant Coleman.