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Initiatives in working conditions

The work environment was an important issue for Vattenfall from an early stage. Work was both dangerous and strenuous. For a long time, there was also a huge difference between the manual workers and office staff. They did not enjoy equal conditions until the 1970s.

Construction work
Construction work
Working on Vattenfall building sites was strenuous. Long hours – up to 60 per week, miserable conditions and numerous workplace accidents. During the early decades of the twentieth century, there was no organised work environment management at Vattenfall. Four accidents involving fatalities occurred during the first six months of construction of the Olidan power station in Trollhättan in 1907. Several people were disabled. Attempts were made to find new ways of working to prevent and manage accidents. For instance, a special safety inspector was appointed and regulations for rock blasting work were drawn up.

In the 1930s, work environment management was taken a step further. There were now special safety engineers employed at Vattenfall's construction sites. Safety representatives and local safety committees were also formed during the 1930s. A central Industrial Safety Committee was formed in the late 1940s, and during the 1950s the work environment organisation was expanded further. One measure that aroused widespread interest was that Vattenfall decided to make helmets mandatory for certain jobs in 1954. A safety representative was also employed who used marketing methods to promote worker safety: a special bus that visited Vattenfall workplaces. This ensured the safety message reached 8,500 of Vattenfall's 10,000-strong workforce at that time via films, talks, exhibitions and brochures. Modern work environment management had been born.

Mandatory helmets
Mandatory helmets
A worker safety promotion bus
A worker safety promotion bus

Despite all these efforts, it was impossible to completely avoid serious accidents, sometimes with a fatal outcome. The most serious was the blasting accident at Grundfors in 1956. Seven workers were killed and three others suffered permanent injuries. The construction of Harsprånget and other power stations during the 50's also cost the lives of several workers.

Grundfors power plant
Grundfors power plant

Workers protest

Workers on Vattenfall building sites started to protest against the working conditions through strikes from an early stage. In May 1907, a strike broke out at the Trollhätte plant – the first time state workers had gone on strike. The parties eventually came to an agreement, but a mere two years later a countrywide general strike broke out. It also affected Vattenfall.

Power station in Lilla Edet
Power station in Lilla Edet
It would take until 1924 before Vattenfall signed its first collective agreement with a trade union. The agreement came after a very long, drawn-out strike in connection with construction of the Lilla Edet power station. Following over a decade of conflicts and strikes, there now came a very long period – from 1925 to 1973 – without a single strike by workers at Vattenfall.

Working conditions for the office workers were largely based on the conditions of workers at communications utilities and other government employees. With one major difference. There was a large number of office workers at Vattenfall on short-term contracts. It was important for Vattenfall to be able to adjust the number of employees according to the economic situation. A large proportion of the office workers held so-called 'non-permanent' posts up until the early 1950s. Construction workers were contracted for specific projects until 1972.

Strike by manual workers and office staff

During the 'red' 1960s and 1970s, a wave of wildcat strikes spread across the country. Miners in Kiruna, car builders at Volvo, dock workers in Ådalen all went on strike. And in 1971 office staff within the SACO union, including those at Vattenfall, went on strike – mainly engineers. Strikes also broke out at Vattenfall's facilities in Forsmark and Ritsem.

The Ritsem strike in 1973 was a wildcat strike in which the syndicalists, SAC, perhaps for the last time played an active role at a Vattenfall construction site. However, syndicalists had been strong at many Vattenfall workplaces in the 1920s and 1930s. The Ritsem strike lasted for a month and was widely reported in the press and on TV. The cause of the strike was a dispute about a special additional allowance for 'wilderness construction'. Under the agreement, this was to be withdrawn once the housing in Ritsem had reached a certain standard. The conflict was resolved and resulted in several improvements for the workers.

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