Sweden: Latest working life developments – Q2 2016

Competition between unions, the launch of a substitute for collective agreements, laws on asylum seekers’ residence permits, employers’ responsibility for sick pay, and a pilots’ strike are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Sweden in the second quarter of 2016. 

Union recruitment and competition

The trade union, Unionen, which organises white-collar workers in the private sector, has received criticism for recruiting members from outside its sector. The criticism is mainly based on the concern that competition for members between unions enables employers to pick and choose which collective agreement to sign. However, Unionen has stated that this has not been a conscious strategy from its side.

Business owners propose alternative to collective agreements

The Swedish Federation of Business Owners (Företagarna) has proposed a new responsibility code (ansvarskodex) to act as an alternative to collective agreements. According to the Federation, collective agreements have not adapted to the modern labour market: 6 out of 10 enterprises with fewer than 50 employers do not have a collective agreement. The proposed code would enable companies to show that they are responsible employers without the burdens that come with a collective agreement. However, the code, which is due to be launched early next year, has been criticised as being damaging for employees as well as for employers.

Migration: stricter laws and studies on labour market integration

In June, stricter regulations on asylum seeking were introduced for a period of three years, with the aim of reducing the number of people seeking asylum in Sweden. The new law includes the introduction of temporary residence permits instead of permanent permits, which used to be the norm. Temporary permits can be renewed or transformed into permanent permits only if the applicant has a steady job.

Swedish unions have criticised the new asylum law, stating that the law – together with the removal of the requirement for collective agreements to cover refugees in so-called ‘introduction positions’ – increases the risk of exploitation.

In a move to increase employment among new immigrants, the government has asked Mikael Damberg, the Minister for Enterprise, to investigate how new, low-skilled jobs can be created in Swedish industry.

Statistics Sweden has conducted two studies examining the labour market integration of immigrants. The studies found that the proportion of highly educated foreign-born people was far lower than among their Swedish-born counterparts (60% and 90% respectively).

Work-related health and sick leave

Two reports published this quarter showed significant differences between male and female workers in terms of work-related illnesses and accidents. A report by the Swedish Work Environment Authority (PDF) showed that the most common cause of illness for men in 2015 was physical strain, while social factors were the main reason for women’s ill health. As it outlines, since 2011, illnesses due to social and organisation-related factors have increased by 83% for women. A further analysis reveals that the increase for men was 48%; hence, the gender gap is clear in both the relative increase, and in absolute terms.

As work-related illness has increased, sick leave has risen. To combat this increase, the government recently launched a proposal to extend employers’ financial responsibility for employees’ sick pay. The aim is to encourage employers to be more active in terms of preventive measures and rehabilitation. If the proposal is accepted, employers will have to pay an insurance fee corresponding to 25% of the employee’s sick pay from the employee’s 91st day of absence. Both employers’ and employees’ organisations have criticised the proposal.

Continued unrest in the air transport sector

Disagreements between Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) and the Swedish Airline Pilots Association (SweALPA) resulted in SweALPA taking 350 of its SAS-employed members out on strike. The parties were unable to reach agreement about issues of employment security, working time and SweALPA’s demands for wage increases of 3.5%. After four days of the strike, the parties finally came to an agreement in accordance with the 2.2% increases set out in the industrial agreement a few months earlier.

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