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East-West labour migration, industrial relations and labour standards in a Swedish-Baltic context


The right for European Union (EU) citizens to move freely across national borders within the EU is considered one of the EUs fundamental four freedoms and is itself a form of response to the need for regional competitiveness in the global economy. However, a possible downside of free movement is a purported downward gravitational effect on established labour standards in terms of wage levels, employment relationships and working environment conditions created by the growing availability of migrant labour originating from lower wage domains with inferior conditions and, at the same time, subject to exploitation in the labour process as vulnerable transnational workers. This project seeks an integrated theoretical and empirical approach in exploring the impact of East-West migration on the patterns of industrial relations, working environment, and welfare regimes from the point of view of both the sending and receiving countries within a regional migration complex, namely Sweden and the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.


European integration , Industrial relations, Labour standards/rights, Baltic labour, Posted Workers


The project empirically examines a series of interrelated questions:
- Patterns of social welfare regimes and labour relations, civil society responses to crisis and labour migration from the Baltic countries to Sweden, evidence of permanent, return and circular migration patterns.
- Trends and changes in the employment status of Baltic labour migrants to Sweden through (1) irregular employment contracts (2) "triangular" employment relationships, i.e. the involvement of intermediaries/temporary agencies (3) the development of so-called "bogus" or false self-employment or similar forms of disguised employment.
- The activities of Swedish LO and trade union affiliates in formulating policy and maintaining labour standards in the post-Laval industrial relations context, as well as in co-operation with Baltic trade union counterparts.
- The policy framework of European and Swedish Employers Confederation and, in particular, construction employers regarding free movement of labour and services.
-The enforcement and surveillance activities of Swedish Working Environment Authority (SWEA) concerning "posted workers". Opportunities for cross-national co-operation between the SWEA and corresponding Baltic regulatory authorities.

Changes in the Swedish national regulatory framework under which migrant labour is employed are examined, especially in the aftermath of the European Court of Justice judgment in the Laval case in December 2007. This concerned the terms of employment of Latvian labour in Sweden, under a Latvian rather than Swedish collective agreement. Subsequent revisions in Swedish legislation, and developments in industrial relations practices regarding the "posting" of temporary workers to Sweden, have so far not been examined in any depth (see Woolfson et al. 2010). In the post-Laval context, research on the changing roles and functions of regulatory authorities in the light of challenges posed to effective monitoring and enforcement of labour standards by cross-border movements of migratory labour is ongoing.


A. Thörnquist (2016) Intra-European labour migration and low-wage competition: comparing the Danish and Swedish experiences across three sectors, Industrial Relations Journal 47(1): 62–78. DOI:10.1111/irj.12126 (published on line: 2 February 2016) With B. Refslund.

A. Thörnquist (2015) East-West Labour Migration and the Swedish Cleaning Industry: A matter of immigrant competition? TheMES, Themes on Migration and Ethnic Studies, No. 42. Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press. http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-115942

A. Thörnquist (2015) False Self-Employment and Other Precarious Forms of Employment in the ‘Grey Area’ of the Labour Market. International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations 31(4): 411-429. http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-123933

A. Thörnquist (2013) False (Bogus) Self-Employment in East-West Labour Migration: Recent trends in the Swedish construction and road haulage industries. TheMES, Themes on Migration and Ethnic Studies, No. 41. Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press. (ISSN 1651-8306). http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-95803

C. Woolfson, (2013) Remitteringar till Baltikum - hållbara även på längre sikt? in A. Monti and V. Nordlund (eds) Det dolda biståndet? frågor och svar om migranters remitteringar. Stockholm: Global Utmaning. pp.55-57. http://www.globalutmaning.se/infor-gfmd-vet-du-vad-remitteringar-ar/skarmavbild-2014-05-09-kl-09-48-22

B. Likic-Brboric, Z. Slavnic and C. Woolfson (2013) Labour Migration and Informalisation: East meets West. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 33(11/12): 677-692.

C. Woolfson, (2012) The future of the construction industry: a Baltic view. Construction Labour Research News, No. 4: 30-33.

C. Thörnqvist and C. Woolfson, (2012) When tender turns tough: posted workers and the tendering regime in the Swedish construction industry. Construction Management and Economics, 30(7): 525-533.

C. Thornqvist and C. Woolfson, (2011) "Dog den svenska modellen i Vaxholm? Laval-målets följder för den svenska arbetsmarknaden", Arbetsmarknad & Arbetsliv, 3.

C. Woolfson, C. Thörnqvist and J. Sommers, (2010) The Swedish model and the future of labour standards after Laval. Industrial Relations Journal, 41 (4): 333-350.

J. Sommers and C. Woolfson, (2008a) Efter Laval: framtiden för europeiska arbetsvillkorpp. Socialistisk Debatt, 1: 33-46.

C. Woolfson, J. Sommers and C. Thörnqvist (2008b) Where next for European trade union rights? Construction Labour Research News, 3: 5-10.

C. Woolfson, (2007) Labour Standards and Labour Migration in the new Europe: Post-communist legacies and perspectives. European Journal of Industrial Relations, 13(2): 199-218.

2010 - 2014


Forte Forskningsrådet arbetsliv, hälsa, välfärd
Linköpings universitet
Swedish Institute, Visby Programme

REMESO Project Leader

Charles Woolfson, Professor Emeritus

Participants from REMESO

Annette Thörnquist
Indre Genelyte

Participants not from REMESO

  • Associate Professor Christer Thörnqvist, REMESO Associate Researcher

Contact for project


Last updated: 2018-02-17

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Last updated: 2020-05-27