Temporary work agencies, and private placement agencies in Sweden have been regulated in some form since the 1730s with the institution Adress-contoiret with royal privileges, where servants could register for work in Stockholm. In 1935, in coherence with the ILO convention from that time, privately run job centres charging fees from job applicants were banned, as well as work agencies acting as employers offering staffing services to their clients. A few exceptions concerning agencies for musicians and specialist consultants were allowed, but the main political values within the workers’ parties were that workers should not be considered as commodities. This regulation was active until 1993, when the government deregulated this practice.
This paper will examine the process of legislation in the Swedish Riksdag concerning work mediation, placement agencies and temporary work agencies. Focus will be on the period from 1900 up to the two legislations of 1935 and 1942. During these formative years, the workers’ movement and their parties, the social democratic party and the communist party, were opposed to all forms of private agencies making profit from this practice. In parliament, motions against this practice were written by MPs from both workers’ parties. The paper is based on studies of parliamentary publications, reports from trade union archives and news paper articles.
There were different kinds of temporary work agencies active during these times, both non-profit and profit. Several trade unions and social movements ran their own non-profit practices, e. g. the bakery workers’ trade union or the Fredrika-Bremer-association concerned with women’s emancipation issues. These practices were not the target of the motions in parliament. Instead they concerned agencies making profit from job mediation. Some agencies charged the job applicants a small fee for enlisting, some added a finder’s fee when the contract was written with the new employer, and some acted as employers and let out their employees as staff to their different clients.
The issue at hand is that during the first part of the 20th century, the distinction between the parties concerned was between worker, mediator of work, and employer. MPs of the workers’ parties did not seem to make any legal distinction as to whether the workers were employed by the client they were offered to, or if the agency acted as the employer. They rather made a moral distinction and were more concerned with the level of exploitation of the worker than who had the legal responsibility as the employer – the temporary work agency or the agency’s client? This shows a different focus than what is prevalent today.
XIth International Conference on Labour History, organized by Association of Indian Labour Historians and V.V. Giri National Labour Institute, 21-23 March, 2016, at V.V. Giri National LAbour Institute, NOIDA, New Dehli, India