Working time legislation to be examined again

In December 2000, the Swedish government announced the establishment of a new working time commission, to examine the entire system of legislation on working hours and leave and propose changes which allow for greater individual choice. This move is the latest development in a long-running debate over possible working time reform.

On 22 December 2000, the minority Social Democratic Party (Socialdemokratiska Arbetarepartiet, SAP) government decided, after discussions with the parties with which it cooperates in parliament - the Left Party (Vänsterpartiet) and the Green Party (Miljöpartiet de Gröna) - to appoint a new working time commission (arbetstidsutredning). The parliamentary commission will examine the whole current legislative framework on rights to annual leave, parental leave and study leave, as well as the provisions of the Working Time Act (arbetstidslagen). This government initiative follows its failure in October 2000 to present a bill on the reform of the Working Time Act (SE0011173F). The remit for the new commission provides that it should be guided by the goal of strengthening the influence of individuals on their own working time, for example in relation to where and when they work. "It is not to be forgotten that some employees want to decrease their working time while others working part-time wish to have a full-time job", stated Mona Sahlin, Minister at the Ministry of Industry, Employment and Communications, announcing the creation of the commission.

The commission will examine the Working Time Act, the Annual Leave Act (semesterlagen) and other legislation dealing with different kinds of leave. Representatives of the social partners will be attached to the parliamentary commission, which is to be chaired by Hans Karlsson, until recently a senior official in the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (Landsorganisationen, LO). The commission's brief is to:

  • propose a new regulation of working time that gives individual employees a larger influence over their working time but at the same time gives employers a good level of flexibility in production;
  • review the implementation in Sweden of the EU Directive (93/104/EC) on working time and propose a clearer implementation of the Directive in Swedish legislation;
  • consider various ways of reducing working time and propose how they might be implemented. In this context, the regulation of overtime work is also to be considered; and
  • consider changes to the Annual Leave Act. The government particularly wants an amendment entitling employees to save holiday entitlement and use it to reduce their daily working time.

The commission is to present its first recommendations, concerning the possible revision of the Annual Leave Act to allow employees to convert holidays into working time cuts, in September 2001. Proposals on possible ways of reducing working time and on the other provisions of the Annual Leave Act are to be delivered in June 2002, and a final report in March 2003.

Working time reform has been a long-running issue in Sweden, with numerous investigations (SE9812126F) and discussions among the social partners failing to achieve a result. In March 2000 a parliamentary group presented a thorough report outlining different options for reducing working time through legislation or collective agreements (SE0004139F). It was widely expected that the government would propose a bill in autumn 2000, as called for by groups including the three main trade union confederations. In September 2000, the union confederations presented a joint proposal for a reduction in working time, involving a total cut of five working days per year, introduced in stages over five years (SE0011173F). The SAP government seemed to support this proposal and announced that it was prepared to propose a bill shortly – but only if it could reach an agreement with the Left Party and Green Party, on whose support it relies. The Left Party seemed willing enough to reach a compromise, but the Green Party would not do so, as it sought a much larger working time reduction, with a long-term goal of cutting weekly working time by 10 hours to 30 hours. The government, not wanting to risk cooperation with its two partners during the period up until the next general election in 2002, withdrew its proposal.

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