Sweden: Developments in working life – Q1 2016

An intense bargaining round, proposals to improve protection for whistle-blowers and a continued focus on labour market integration are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Sweden in the first quarter of 2016.

Heated bargaining round

As the first quarter of 2016 drew to a close, the wage bargaining round was in full swing, and it seems to have been the most intense for many years. For the first time in several decades, the wage negotiations were done without any coordination from the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO). In the autumn of 2015, unions affiliated to LO failed to agree on relative wage increases in the confederation's female-dominated sectors, resulting in a collapse of coordination. This meant that the role of the Industrial Agreement as a benchmark in wage-setting came under pressure as the unions, in the absence of coordination, were free to demand higher wage increases than would otherwise have been possible. Up to the end of the quarter, many parties were still in negotiation with several unions issuing strike notices which, if negotiations failed, were due to take effect in early to mid-April.

One of the hottest topics in this bargaining round has been flexible pensions. Many white-collar unions have been demanding such a scheme in their collective agreements for several years but have not always been able to convince the employers to agree. This time three unions – Unionen, which represents white-collar workers and is the second biggest trade union in Sweden; The Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers (Saco); and The Swedish Union for Service and Communications Employees (SEKO) – are threatening to call on more than 10,000 of their workers to strike if agreements on flexible retirement cannot be reached.

Integration of immigrants

There has also been a continued focus on measures to aid the integration of immigrants into the Swedish labour market. A new fast-track scheme for migrants was introduced, including a scheme for teachers. The Minister for Employment was given a wider mandate and is now in charge of directing the government’s social integration policies. The fast track for teachers enables migrants to carry out internships while, at the same time, taking part in occupation-specific language-training and additional complementary training. Parts of the complementary training can be conducted in Arabic. The measure is aimed at teachers in pre-schools, elementary schools and upper secondary schools.

Other recent government actions include a proposal to strengthen the protection for workplace whistle-blowers. Among other things, the new legislation would mean that alerting the local union representative of any abuse or malpractice will be regarded as an ‘in-company’ alarm, like that to a manager. The law would also protect temporary workers.

Turbulence continues in aviation industry

The industrial turbulence in the aviation industry reported in 2015 continued into the new year. Pilots employed by a temporary work agency and cabin crew employed by the same agency took separate strike action in February. Both conflicts were quickly resolved and the strikes were called off after one day.

Other developments

In March, new work environment regulations came into force, increasing the onus on employers to ensure a healthy psychosocial work environment. The regulations will cover staffing, working hours and unequal treatment. According to an LO representative, this will require tighter cooperation between unions and employers as well as within the unions. The new regulations have prompted the Work Environment Authority to launch a campaign to spread knowledge about work-related stress.

new study found that despite raising the maximum possible level of compensation for the unemployed in the September 2015, many people still receive well below the intended 80% of their wage in unemployment insurance.

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