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Period of time during which the employee must perform work on the employer's behalf. In Sweden, although the duration and scheduling of working hours are usually laid down by collective agreement or specified in the contract of employment there is also legislation on the matter (see below).

Collectively agreed normal working hours for full-time employees are usually 40 hours per full working week. Since public holidays (helgdagar) normally correspond to some 80 working hours over the year, these normal working hours actually amount, on average, to 38.5 hours a week. There are, however, a fair number of collective agreements which specify a shorter normal working week for particular types of work, such as continuous shiftwork in the engineering industry.

The late 1990s have witnessed a trend in collective agreements towards certain reductions in working hours introduced under arrangements which allow the individual employee to choose whether to take the reduction in the form of paid time off or in some other form. In the pulp and paper industry, for example, a “time bank” system has been introduced so that a personal “working-time account” (arbetstidskonto) is set up for each employee into which the employer deposits “credits” and from which the individual concerned can make “withdrawals” in the form of paid time off, pension premiums or cash. Another trend is towards the creation of possibilities for varying the duration of working hours according to production requirements: in the engineering industry employers can now decide to lengthen or shorten working hours by 24 minutes a day when the need arises.

According to a statistical study carried out in 1994, actual working hours (including overtime) are around 40.5 hours a week for full-time employees.


The key statute in Sweden which sets out provisions on the duration and scheduling of working hours for the protection of employees is the 1982 Working Time Act. This Act represents something of a hybrid between public law and private law: it can be wholly or partly replaced by rules in collective agreements, but if this is not done its application is enforced by state authorities. It is usually seen as forming part of the regulation of the work environment.

The European Working Time Directive (93/l04/EC) has been implemented in Sweden only provisionally, through a number of amendments made to the 1982 Act in 1996. The most important of these is the introduction of the so-called EC bar, which means that no collective agreement or administrative decision granting exemption from the Act's provisions may have the effect of creating conditions less favourable to the employee than the minimum standards laid down in the Directive.

The Act is in principle applicable to the entire labour market. Exceptions are made for homeworkers and forms of remote working and also for managerial executives and others who in view of the nature of their responsibilities are trusted to organize their own working time. Domestic workers (see domestic work) and seafarers are also excluded but covered, instead, by provisions laid down in, respectively, the 1970 Domestic Work (Working Hours, etc.) Act and the 1998 Rest Periods for Seafarers Act.

Although the concept of working time is not defined in the Act, it is seen as denoting the period of time during which an employee is at the employer's disposal and on that basis performs work on the latter's behalf. It does not include periods spent on-call and on stand-by: these both denote time during which employees are not actually working but required to keep themselves available to the employer to do so if need arises. The difference between them is that being on-call requires the employee to remain on the work premises, whereas an employee who is on stand-by can be at home or elsewhere away from the workplace.

There is no provision in the Act explicitly corresponding to the EC Directive's requirement that the average weekly working time (including overtime) should not exceed 48 hours. A maximum figure may be inferred if the Act's rules on normal working hours and overtime are read side by side. Under its section 5, normal working hours may not exceed 40 hours a week, calculated in certain cases as an average over a four-week period. These hours may be accompanied by periods of on-call duty, within specified limits. Over and above this, when there is a special need for increased working time overtime as defined in its section 9 (referred to as allmän övertid, i.e. ordinary overtime) may be worked up to a maximum of 48 hours for each four-week period (or 50 hours during a calendar month), but subject to an upper limit of 200 hours during a calendar year. For the purposes of calculating overtime, any time off in lieu or other time off which is taken in normal working hours is counted as hours worked. Hence, the total working time permissible under the Act can only be deduced by reading the two sets of rules on normal working hours and on overtime in conjunction with each other. Comparison of the result with the EC Directive's 48-hours rule shows that, although the Swedish Act certainly provides just as good protection as the Directive in general terms, the Directive's requirement is not fully guaranteed in certain situations, i.e. where an entire year's permissible overtime is worked within a concentrated four-month period. Special rules apply to working overtime in emergency situations (nödsfallsövertid) and are set out in section 9 of the Act.

The Act permits total working hours longer than those resulting from its general rules to be adopted by collective agreement. Such departures can take place in various ways. At industry-wide level (see sectoral agreement) it can be agreed to derogate from the Act altogether, and agreements which replace it entirely have, for example, been concluded for manual and white-collar workers in the engineering industry. At the same level, derogations can also be agreed from just a number of specified provisions including those on normal working hours and ordinary overtime. At local level (see sectoral agreement) it can also be agreed to derogate from, for instance, the rules restricting ordinary overtime, although only temporarily for a period of not more than one month. However, all such collectively agreed derogations are now subject to the above-mentioned EC bar, and therefore invalid if the rules they adopt are less favourable to employees than the minimum standards laid down by the Working Time Directive.

Lastly, where there are special reasons the employer may obtain authorization to apply a form of additional overtime (ytterligare övertid) of up to a maximum of 150 hours a year, by dispensation from the Occupational Health and Safety Board (now part of the Work Environment Agency). However, such dispensation is granted only if the employer has first attempted to use the possibility of negotiating such a derogation in the form of a collective agreement and, like collectively agreed provisions, is subject to the EC bar.

Contravention by employers of the Act's provisions on the restriction of working hours is punishable in the first instance by a penalty payment. For infringement of its special rules restricting overtime, the Act stipulates a specific penalty in the form of the overtime penalty payment. However, where the rules laid down in the Act have been replaced by collectively agreed provisions the penalties applicable are, instead, those laid down either in the agreement concerned or in the 1976 Co-Determination Act (normally general damages).

As regards working hours for part-time workers, see part-time work and extra hours.

No rules are stated in the Working Time Act on whether an employee can be obliged to work more than the normal working hours. The matter has to be decided in accordance with the relevant collective agreement or the contract of employment, as does that of entitlement to special overtime pay or time off in lieu for any overtime worked.

Under section 12 of the Act, the employer is normally required to inform employees of changes to the scheduling of normal working hours and on-call duty at least two weeks in advance. If a change is such that it falls under the rules on negotiation on managerial decisions laid down in the Co-Determination Act, the employer must also observe the duty to negotiate imposed by those rules.

All employees are entitled to be released from the obligation to work during a night-time rest period which must include the period between midnight and 5 am, but derogations may be made from this rule in cases where the needs of the general community or other special circumstances require the work to continue at night as well. No maximum is specified in the Act for the length of the working day and there is therefore nothing expressly corresponding to the requirement laid down in the EC Directive for a daily rest period releasing the employee from the obligation to work during an unbroken interval of 11 hours in every 24-hour period. However, in scheduling working hours the employer must observe the general requirements on the quality of the work environment as formulated in the 1977 Work Environment Act, and those requirements must be interpreted as implying, among other things, that employees are entitled to a longer daily rest period than can be inferred purely from the Working Time Act's rules on the night-time period.

The Act also contains rules on the weekly rest period and on rest breaks and other short breaks during work.

Enforcement of the Act is co-ordinated with enforcement of the Work Environment Act in that both functions are fulfilled by the same authorities. The Work Environment Agency can issue prohibition and improvement notices. Infringement incurs criminal liability, but not if a fine has been set in the notice concerned.

Employers are required, on pain of incurring a penalty payment, to maintain records for each individual employee on the amount of overtime worked, etc., and to preserve them for three calendar years.

Following repeated announcements by the Government that changes to the legislation on working hours were imminent, in autumn 2000 the whole question was postponed until 2003.

Please note: the European industrial relations glossaries were compiled between 1991 and 2003 and are not updated. For current material see the European industrial relations dictionary.

Page last updated: 14 August, 2009