Legal service based on trade union membership in Sweden.
The right for a member of a Labour Union in Sweden to get legal aid is stated in the statutes of the unions.
Legal service is awarded subject to prior decision taken by the executive body of the respective national union. In the majority of the cases this is being done in the following way. The national union concerned appoints a lawyer from LO-TCO Rättsskydd AB to assist the member affected by a dispute. The national union pays all 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 the
cases of occupational injuries, sickness benefit, disability pension etc.
• Indemnity for injuries caused by the employer.
• Other legal disputes directly linked to employment.
Due to the framing of the existing labour legislation, it also happens that the national union is considered as part of a dispute concerning 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 per cent of the shares are owned by the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO), thus indirectly by the national unions affiliated to the LO, and 10 per cent 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. This means that, after decision in there own trade union organisation, about 3,5 million LO and TCO members can get support in legal affairs related to their work.
LO-TCO Rättsskydd AB employs a total of 47 people working in two different departments.
A. Department of occupational injuries and social insurance.
B. Department of labour and crime law.
These two departments have the following functions:
A. Department of occupational injuries and social insurance
Staff: 21 lawyers, 5 secretaries.
With the help of consulting medical experts the lawyers in this 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 1,000 cases every year. At the moment the number of issues amounts to 3,000.
B. Department of labour and criminal law.
Staff: 12 lawyers, 5 secretaries
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. As an example could be mentioned a case 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 cases and each year 500 new cases are submitted to the department.
The reason why the number of cases submitted to this department is lower than to the earlier mentioned department is that disputes arising at the place of work are subjected, in the first place, to negotiations at plant level between the corresponding central organisations. Not until then, that is if no agreement if reached at central level, 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 of legal assistance only occurs in court. This also means that the cases submitted to LO-TCO Rättsskydd AB are cases of great importance and might serve as pilot cases for the future. LO-TCO Rättsskydd AB represents one of the parties involved in about 35 per cent 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. For 2002 this rate is SEK 1,300 for the department of occupational injuries and social insurance’s and SEK 1,400 for the department of labour and criminal law, VAT excluded.
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 to answer 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 40 million SEK. This is less than SEK 12 per affiliates member. The same year the lawyers of the company secured compensations to the client/the trade union members of about 220 million SEK.