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Tesla battle with Swedish unions spreads to Denmark

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Tesla’s labour dispute in Scandinavia has escalated after a union in Denmark said it would no longer transport vehicles to Sweden, where the US electric-car maker is locked in a battle over workers’ rights.

Denmark’s largest union 3F announced the move on Tuesday, saying its dockworkers and drivers would no longer help move vehicles bound for Sweden.

Swedish union IF Metall is in an increasingly bitter struggle with Tesla over the carmaker’s refusal to sign a collective agreement in which labour conditions are set by employers and unions.

“IF Metall and the Swedish workers are currently fighting an incredibly important battle. When they ask for our support, we take part, of course,” said Jan Villadsen, head of 3F Transport.

Swedish cleaners, dockworkers and postal workers have already tried to support the striking Tesla mechanics. Norwegian dockworkers have also said they would refuse to unload Teslas destined for Sweden.

The dispute involves only about 130 mechanics at Tesla’s workshops in Sweden, many of whom are still working as normal.

Marie Nilsson, head of the powerful IF Metall union, told the Financial Times last week that Sweden’s famed economic model could be threatened in the long term if Tesla were allowed to opt out of a collective agreement.

Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, has dismissed the strikes as “insane”. “I disagree with the idea of unions. I just don’t like anything which creates a lords and peasants kind of thing,” he said at a New York Times event last week.

Villadsen said the Danish sympathy action was aimed at putting further pressure on Tesla to come to the negotiating table.

“Even if you are one of the richest people in the world, you can’t just make your own rules. We have some agreements on the labour market in the Nordics, and you have to comply with them if you want to do business here,” the 3F Transport leader said.

Norwegian unions are also discussing their response to the conflict and whether to take more action. They are examining whether to organise Tesla workers in Norway, where the US carmaker sells roughly double the amount of cars than in Sweden.

Under the Nordic labour model, wages and working conditions in most companies are set at a national level between unions and employer organisations. Both sides credit this for a lower level of strikes than in many less unionised countries in Europe such as Germany and France.

“Solidarity is the cornerstone of the trade union movement and extends across borders,” said Villadsen. “Therefore we now use the tools we have and use them to secure collective agreements and fair working conditions.”

Swedish dockworkers have already stopped unloading Teslas, leading to speculation that the cars could enter Sweden from Denmark. The Danish workers will start their sympathy action in two weeks after a mandatory two-week notice period.

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