Trade unions protest in front of Swedish Embassy

  • 2005-11-23
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - Brewing unrest within the Swedish Embassy spilled onto the streets Nov. 21, with trade unions claiming that their members were experiencing national exclusion and being treated as second-class employees.

Allthough she did not participate in the confederation of Lithuanian trade unions' protest, Sniege Naku, chairwoman of the trade union uniting the embassy's local employees, said her body was "partially paralyzed" after a recent conflict with the Swedish ambassador.

members of the Swedish Embassy did not step outside to confront protesters, while the trade-union activists took steps to defend their rights.

Embassy employees complained that Swedish Ambassador to Lithuania Malin Karre, who came to Lithuania a year ago, regards them as second-class employees. The diplomat allegedly doesn't respect their trade union, refuses to negotiate on collective contracts, and has no qualm with salaries that fall below the employees' qualifications and work effort.

Naku said the ambassador even evicted her from the embassy's premises, although she hasn't officially sacked her. In fact, the chairwoman couldn't be present at the protest due to her paralyzed legs, which she claims was the direct result of a nerve shock brought on by her stressful meeting with Karre.

"During the 14 years that I worked for the Swedish embassy, I had no complaints, only praise. However, when the ambassador started her term in Vilnius, we noticed that things were getting worse and worse until it became total chaos," Naku told The Baltic Times.

Lithuanians claim that the ambassador ignores all their attempts to negotiate over better contracts and nonexisting job descriptions.

The ambassador didn't respond to any of the trade union's numerous letters and requests to begin dialog and negotiate over the possibility of establishing collective agreements, Naku explained. What's more, she claimed the working atmosphere in the embassy had become unbearable as locals felt like "servants rather than employees."

When contacted by The Baltic Times, embassy employees were unwilling to comment on the situation.

"We still work here and many things depend on what we say," an official said.

On Nov. 10, the ambassador ordered Naku to turn in the keys and leave the embassy's premises.

Although Naku is not dismissed from her job, embassy staff was instructed not to let the chairwoman back into the building.

Naku claimed she had no idea what grounds, other than personal, could account for such actions. She was also denied her belongings, which still sit in the embassy today. "I was shocked to see the behavior of the Swedish side 's Sweden is famous for its deep trade union tradition. Unfortunately, some Swedish diplomats behave in a completely opposite manner," commented Naku.

The ambassador of Sweden refused to comment on this individual case. She did, however, say she respected the trade union's decision to stage a law-abiding demonstration in front of the embassy, but admitted that collective agreements couldn't be considered.

"The Swedish diplomatic mission, just like any other mission, works under the Vienna Convention of diplomatic rules," Karre said. "That's why there can't be any collective agreements."

According to Lithuanian law, the approval of the trade union is required to dismiss its chairperson. "She [the ambassador] refuses to recognize that such trade union [regulations] exist. However, the trade union is a legal body, it has a registration and acts according to law," said Rima Kisieliene, a representative of the Lithuanian Trade Union of State Employees.

As a diplomatic representation, the embassy doesn't have to adhere to the Lithuanian Labor Code, the ambassador explained. Karre expressed disappointment that protest participants didn't convey a wish to talk to her in person so she could explain the situation.

"All I received were letters threatening that the matter would be taken to the media, and Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These held a rather rude tone, and were not an attempt to establish communication," Karre said.