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INTERVIEW: ‘Spotify need to realise they’re a bigger player and should act like one’

After Sweden's engineers' union took the historic step of seeking a collective bargaining agreement with Spotify, the music streaming service, The Local spoke to union lawyer Heléne Robson about what happens next.

INTERVIEW: 'Spotify need to realise they're a bigger player and should act like one'
Heléne Robson, the chief lawyer at Engineers of Sweden, says that the push for collective bargaining agreements at Spotify and Klarna show that the tech industry is maturing. Photo: Engineers of Sweden

Engineers of Sweden, together with the white-collar unions Unionen and Akavia, submitted the request to Spotify on Wednesday, April 12th, saying that they hoped to strike the first collective agreement with the company “as soon as possible”.

The approach to Spotify came just two weeks after a similar approach to the payments company Klarna, showing how tech workers at Sweden’s biggest tech companies are seeking to unionise in the middle of their first round of layoffs in decades. 

According to Robson, the chief lawyer at Engineers of Sweden, the two companies are expected to enter negotiations within a few weeks of unions making contact. 

“The normal time to get a response and start negotiations is two to three weeks,” she told The Local. “Then how long these negotiations take just depends on the climate of the talks, what is said, how the responses will be. We hope of course that this will end with negotiations and that we will reach a conclusion together.” 

She said that under Sweden’s Co-Determination in the Workplace Act, or Lag om medbestämmande i arbetslivet (MBL), if the companies refuse to start talks, the unions have the right to begin industrial action. 

“At the end of the day, it they say ‘no’ and our members continue to require this, we have to consider industrial action, but we really want to find a way forward through constructive dialogue with the company in order to get to get a collective agreement in place.”

Spotify’s founder Daniel Ek at the end of January announced plans to lay off six percent of Spotify’s global workforce in a memo posted on the company’s website. 

Many of Spotify’s staff members in Sweden have already joined Engineers of Sweden, and Unionen and Akavia also have members at the company. Robson said that since January, a large number of these members had been in touch requesting a collective bargaining agreement. 

“A lot of them have been in touch, so there is a strong movement,” she said, putting the surge in interest in striking a union deal down to greater job insecurity. 

“It’s quite common at workplaces without a collective agreement where the working conditions for the most part are seen as good that the upsides with having a collective agreement become more noticeable when times become more turbulent,” she said. 

“When it’s just down to the employer’s goodwill then it’s less persistent compared to a collective agreement, which stands in place in good times and bad. The members realise it’s getting a bit rougher in the market and also we see in the attitudes from a lot of our younger members that they put safety and job security first.”

She said that the move towards collective agreements at Spotify and Klarna was a sign that the tech industry was moving beyond the startup phase. 

“It’s an industry that’s not as mature as the old industries, like steel for instance, so they’ve had many very good years where the employees maybe haven’t realised what can happen and what gives stability throughout their work life,” she said. “They [Spotify] are moving into a position where they need to realise they’re a bigger player and they need to act like one as well.” 

READ ALSO: Should foreign workers join a union in Sweden? 

In Spotify’s interest? 

Robson said that the unions believed that having a collective agreement in place would help Spotify recruit within Sweden. 

“We hope they will realise that this will make them a more attractive employer and give a more stable environment for their employees,” she said. 

The reforms to Sweden’s Employment Protection Act, or Lagen om anställningsskydd (LAS), which came into force in 2022, she added, meant that tech companies could strike a collective agreement while still retaining some flexibility over which employees to lay off in a downturn. 

“We think that with the new LAS rules in place, where they can make exemptions, and they’re able to make a joint decision with the unions, if they need to cut down staff, it should be easier for them to move forward in case they need to make quick decisions.” 

She said that the unions were aware of the risk that if they made too many demands on Spotify in Sweden, it would simply move more of its operations to less unionised countries such as the UK or US. 

“That’s always a perspective we need to take into consideration,” she said. “But they’re also paving the way for other tech companies because it’s an industry that needs to realise what’s important for their employees now.” 

What would employees gain from such an agreement? 

Robson said that job stability was just one of the advantages Spotify’s employees would gain, citing the greater pension they would have under the occupational pension (tjänstepension) given employees with collective agreements, and access to omställningsstudiestöd, the new system of retraining and skills development support brought in at the start of this year. 

“They would get stability, they would get a tjänstepension, they would have different rules about maternity and paternity leave, they will have access to omställningsstudiestöd,” she said.

“It’s not just up to the employer to change the agreement over time. They need to sign an agreement, and it’s valid for so many years, so it’s much more stable,” she continued. 

“It also enables us to start union clubs at the actual workplace, in Stockholm and Gothenburg, for instance, and to have a local representation with better possibilities for influencing the employer, getting information early, and having good contacts with management.” 

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For members


How this researcher in Luleå played a role in India’s moon landing

By the time Avijit Banerjee watched India's Chandrayaan-3 land on the south pole of the moon from his home in the far north of Sweden, he was no longer involved. But the landing algorithm he developed played a key role in the mission's success.

How this researcher in Luleå played a role in India's moon landing

Banerjee developed the algorithm for a guidance and autopilot system for a soft landing on the moon as part of his PhD at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, working closely with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

In the end, there wasn’t enough time to properly test the algorithm so it could be used in the unsuccessful Chandrayaan-2, which crashed in 2019 due to a software error. But it became an important part of Chandrayaan-3, which on August 23rd this year became the first human vehicle to land on the moon’s southern pole. 

“It was just a movie to us. We were watching it and enjoying the show,” Banerjee tells The Local, remembering the atmosphere among his colleagues – from India, Sweden, and elsewhere – at Luleå Technological University, on the day of the landing.

“But yes, I was deeply involved in that development process as part of my PhD. It was a giant collaboration in industry and academia, in collaboration with ISRO, and and the Indian Institute of Science, in the space department, where I did my PhD.”

Banerjee got his postdoc in Luleå only a few months after defending his PhD and jumped at the chance to work in the space robotics group led by Professor George Nikolakopoulos, which he describes as a “fantastic” team.  

“It’s not just an opportunity for me, it’s a privilege to be part of this team at LTU. So I took this opportunity to work in space robotics, which is a new frontier in space.”

It was the job that lured him to a part of Sweden where there are only three to four hours of daylight in winter, temperatures average -10C, and the surrounding waters turn to ice, particularly as his wife, who he met at the Indian Institute of Science, also managed to get a position at LTU. 

But he has found it easy to leave the pleasant Bangalore climate behind. 

“I find myself contented to be in such a nice place where there are much fewer people and more exposure to nature,” he says. “It’s the best place for a scientist you can possibly imagine. I find myself very comfortable. It is very close to nature, the people are very nice, and I have the exact opportunity that I was looking for. So it’s a perfect match.” 

He doesn’t even find the weather too difficult to handle. 

“Even though I’ve already been exposed to extreme cold weather by day, it is not that extremely cold inside the rooms. I mean, they are all heated,” he says. “And if you look at the nature, it is not that monotonous: when it comes to winter, it all gets white and when it comes to summer, it’s very colourful, and now autumn is even more colourful. So I find that this is very nice.” 

Not that he has taken up any of the outdoor sports, like cross-country skiing or hunting that are popular with locals. 

“I’m not really a sportsman. I’m a bit lazy,” he jokes. “But in my spare time, I visit some nearby lakeside areas. I walk around the place. There are many seating arrangements, and I sit there and enjoy the serenity, the beauty of nature there. That’s my favourite time.” 

He concedes that his Swedish is, as yet “not good at all” and only at a “very, very preliminary stage”. 

“But I will work to develop it, of course. There is a university course, which I got registered for, but I haven’t formally passed it yet, so I need to put a little more effort in. There are many other things to do, but of course, being here, I should know the language.” 

There are currently about 150 Indians living in and around Luleå, making it less than a tenth of the size of other Indian communities in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, or Helsingborg. But he feels he can see enough of his countrymen to feel attached to his roots. 

“We are global citizens. It’s not as if we are coming here to make an Indian community, we come here to do our research, to do our work. But in the meantime we meet together to get connected to our roots.”

Most of the Indians are connected to the university, but there are also people working in the local mining and metals industry, entrepreneurs with their own businesses, and more besides, who join together to celebrate local festivals and to hold other events. 

“For the Independence Day of India, we gathered together and had some food we prepared,” he says. “In India we celebrate for ten days at Dussehra for the deity of the holy mother. But here we will gather together for one evening to celebrate among ourselves.”


While the university put out a press release reporting Banerjee’s role in Chandrayaan-3, he is no longer working with the India’s space agency, working more closely with NASA and ESA in his current projects. 

He sees the soft landing of the project’s Vikram lander and the dispatch of the autonomous Pragyan rover onto this unexplored part of the moon as a milestone for humanity, rather than something only India should celebrate. 

“It is indeed a significant success: not only for India, it is a success for the entire space community that we have the capability to autonomously land on another celestial planet, other than earth,” he says.

“It’s not only the moon. We can extend the capability that we have to Mars and then Venus and other planets, maybe other solar systems. It will happen one day. Our home is not within earth only. Humanity will extend beyond that.” 

He is currently working with ESA on a machine learning algorithm that can enable constellations of satellites to work together to optimise their positioning, avoid collisions and react if one of their number is destroyed, and with NASA on another landing algorithm. 

He is also working on a project that will enable an autonomous vehicle landed on the moon or another planet to seek out the source of any substance it detects, and also on robotics systems to enable autonomous vehicles to explore caves. 

“Cave areas are very important in space because those are like time capsules. They contain information that has been untouched for millions and millions of years, unaffected by any wind gust or any asteroids or meteorites, so they can help us find the source of universe, how it formed, how that life came about.”

He has one more year of his postdoc left, and doesn’t yet know if he and his wife will stay in subarctic Sweden or move on elsewhere. But, if he was given another position, he says he’d be happy to stay in Northern Sweden for the long term.   

“I like this place, so if that happened, I’d be happy. But I cannot predict my future. I’d be happy to spend my life here if I got an opportunity.”