Sweden: Working life country profile

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Health and well-being at work,
  • Löhne und Gehälter,
  • Skills and training,
  • Work organisation,
  • Arbeitszeit,
  • Labour market participation,
  • Collective bargaining,
  • Social partners,
  • Social partners,
  • Inequality,
  • Working conditions,
  • Beschäftigung und Arbeitsmärkte,
  • Arbeitsbeziehungen,
  • Labour and social regulation,
  • Lebensbedingungen und Lebensqualität,
  • Social policies,
  • Beschäftigung und Arbeitsmärkte,
  • Published on: 25 November 2015


This profile describes the key characteristics of working life in Sweden. It aims to complement other Eurofound research by providing the relevant background information on structures, institutions and relevant regulations regarding working life. This includes indicators, data and regulatory systems on the following aspects: actors and institutions, collective and individual employment relations, health and well-being, pay, working time, skills and training, and equality and discrimination at work. The profiles are updated annually.

Key figures

Comparative figures on working life in Sweden                                        




% (point) change














Unemployment rate – total







Unemployment rate  women







Unemployment rate – men







Unemployment rate  youth







Employment rate – total







Employment rate  women







Employment rate  men







Employment rate  youth







Source: Eurostat - Unemployment rate by sex and age - annual average,  % [une_rt_a]; Purchasing power parities (PPPs), price level indices and real expenditures for ESA 2010 aggregates [prc_ppp_ind]).


Economic and labour market context

Sweden has an extensive welfare state characterised by universal coverage, high levels of social protection and a large public sector. The labour market is regulated mainly through collective agreements without interference from the government. 

Between 2010 and 2015, Swedish GDP increased by 11.3%. During this time, the unemployment rate decreased for all categories considered, in particular for young people, falling by 4.4 percentage points in this group and reaching a rate of 20.4% in 2015, when total unemployment was 7.4%. The employment rate over the five years was above the EU average in all categories. The youth employment rate was 55.1% in 2015, well above the EU average of 41.5% for the same year.  

More information on:

Legal context

The Employment Protection Act (LAS 1982:80) regulates the relationship between employees and employers in the public and private sector. It describes different types of employment and the rules that apply when employment is terminated. The existence of the Employment Protection Act has been debated recently, as it been criticised for costing employers too much and thus hindering employment, yet it is also seen as crucial to guarantee employee rights. Except for an addition in 2014 to paragraph 1 concerning apprenticeships, the law remains unaltered.

The Codetermination Act (MBL 1976:580) regulates collective agreements, employees’ right of trade union representation and the right to join a trade union or employers’ organisation. It describes the rights and obligations during negotiations and conflict. A paragraph was added to the Codetermination Act in 2013, reinforcing the National Mediation Office’s role as a negotiator in labour market disputes (paragraph 46).

The Swedish Work Environment Authority (Arbetsmiljöverket) is the labour inspectorate. The Swedish Work Environment Authority ensures that the Work Environment Act (AML 1977:1160) and the Work Time Act (ATL 1982:673) are followed.

Industrial relations context

The main agreement regulating collective bargaining between social partners was set in 1938 (Saltsjöbadsavtalet). The agreement gives employers and trade unions the right to determine wages and employment conditions in collective agreements. Self-regulation through collective bargaining is a strong tradition on the Swedish labour market.

Until the 1980s, bargaining mainly took place at the central level. There was a subsequent shift in bargaining from the central to the sectoral level. Bargaining at the local level is also becoming increasingly common.

The Industrial Cooperation and Negotiation Agreement (Industriavtalet) has set the norm for wages in collective agreements since 1997. The agreement is intended to ensure that wages are sustained at levels that take into account Swedish productivity and international competitiveness. The social partners in the industrial sector set a joint cost mark, which they promote to the wider labour market. This has generally been successful, although there is no guarantee that social partners in other sectors will adhere to the cost mark. The Industrial Cooperation and Negotiation Agreement of 2013 set the norm at 6.8% wage increase over three years (National Mediation Office, 2014a).

Actors and institutions

Trade unions, employers’ organisations and public institutions play a key role in the governance of the employment relationship, working conditions and industrial relations structures. They are interlocking parts in a multilevel system of governance that includes European, national, sectoral, regional (provincial or local) and company levels. This section looks into the main actors and institutions and their role in Sweden.

Public authorities involved in regulating working life

Public authorities facilitate dispute resolution and make sure that laws are followed. They do not interfere with the collective bargaining tradition between social partners.

The Ministry of Employment is responsible for labour market policy, working life policy and integration in Sweden. Important public authorities that lie under the Ministry of Employment are the Swedish Labour Court (Arbetsdomstolen), which rules on labour-related disputes, and the Swedish Work Environment Authority (Arbetsmiljöverket), the labour inspectorate that monitors and promotes health and safety measures at work. The Swedish National Mediation Office (Medlingsinstitutet) also lies under the Ministry of Employment. Its role is to mediate in labour disputes and promote efficient wage formation processes.


In Sweden, industrial relations are based on trust and mutual understanding and the tradition of a self-regulating system of collective agreements is firmly established. The government’s legislative role is limited and there is no formal procedure for recognising employers’ or employees’ organisations. Instead, decisions regarding participating parties in bargaining processes are made through custom and practice.

More information on the representativeness of the main social partner organisations can be found in Eurofound’s representativeness study of the cross-industry social partners or in Eurofound’s sectoral representativeness studies.

Trade unions

About trade union representation

Trade unions have a traditionally strong role in the Swedish labour market. The right to become a member of a trade union is regulated in the Codetermination Act. Since the 1938 Saltsjöbadsavtalet agreement, trade unions and employers have had the right to negotiate wages and working conditions in collective agreements.

Even though trade union membership has declined since the beginning of the twenty-first century, trade union membership in Sweden is still high by international standards. At the start of the twenty-first century, trade union density was around 80%. When the government increased union membership fees in 2007, there was a large membership loss. The overall trade union density has been stable at around 70% since 2008. Union membership is higher among older than among younger workers (Kjellberg, 2013).

The membership fee increase affected workers in various ways. In 2008 a differentiated union membership fee was introduced (but it was abolished again in 2014), which was based on the level of unemployment among the members. Unions with higher levels of unemployment had higher fees. Given that unemployment rose more among blue-collar workers than among white-collar workers during the financial crises, blue-collar union fees increased disproportionately to those of white-collar workers. In parallel, blue-collar union membership fell by seven percentage points between 2008 and 2014, whereas white-collar union membership rose by two percentage points over the same period (Kjellberg, 2013).

Trade union membership and trade union density







Trade union density in terms of active employees






Trade union membership in 1,000s






Source: Kjellberg (2013)

Main trade union confederations and federations

On the employee side, there are three main peak-level social partner organisations:

  • The Swedish Trade Union Confederation (Landsorganisationen i Sverige, LO) represented 1.47 million members at the end of 2013, of which 1.27 million are working. LO is mostly associated with blue-collar workers.
  • The Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (Tjänstemännens Centralorganisation, TCO) represented 1.28 million members at the end of 2013, of which 1.02 million are working. TCO is mostly associated with white-collar workers.
  • The Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations (Sveriges Akademikers Centralorganisation, SACO) represented 645,810 members at the end of 2013, of which 487,928 are working. SACO is mostly associated with university graduate employees.

Main trade union confederations and federations

Long name


Members (2013)

Involved in collective bargaining

Swedish Trade Union Confederation



Yes, indirectly


Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees



Yes, indirectly

Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations



Yes, indirectly

Source: National Mediation Office (2014b)

Trade unions are demarcated by sector. There are approximately 60 trade unions, most of which are members of one of the three major trade union confederations mentioned above.

In 2011, the Swedish Maritime Officers Union (SBF and SBF-O) was established through a merger of the Maritime Officers Union and the Maritime Officers Union for Public Employees. In the same year, the Swedish Union of Local Government Officers (SKTF) trade union changed its name to Vision.

Employers’ organisations

About employers’ representation

In contrast to the trade unions’ declining memberships, employers’ organisations have not experienced any similar membership loss and have remained at a stable level for the past two decades. Today, employers’ organisation density is at a higher level than trade union density (Kjellberg, 2013).

Employers’ organisations – membership and density






Employers’ organisation density in terms of active employees




Kjellberg (2013)

Employers’ organisation density in private sector establishments




Kjellberg (2013)




European Company Survey 2013

Note: Percentage of employees working in an establishment that is a member of any employers’ organisation that is involved in collective bargaining.

Main employers’ organisations

On the employer side, there are three main organisations: one for the private sector and two for the public sector.

The largest private employers’ organisation is the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv), representing approximately 60,000 small, medium and large companies.

The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, SALAR (Sveriges Kommuner och Landsting, SKL) is the largest employers’ organisation for the public sector, representing 290 municipalities and 20 county councils with over 1 million employees.

The Swedish Agency for Government Employers, SAGE (Arbetsgivarverket) is the membership organisation for government agencies. SAGE represents approximately 250 public authorities and agencies for the 250,000 government employees.

Most employers engaging in a collective agreement are members of an employers’ organisation. If the employer wishes to engage in collective agreements without membership, there can be a voluntary extension (hängavtal).

Main employers’ organisations and confederations

Long name




Involved in collective bargaining

Confederation of Swedish Enterprise


60,000 firms


Yes, directly and indirectly


Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions


290 municipalities and 20 county councils


Yes, directly and indirectly

Swedish Agency for Government Employers


250 public authorities


Yes, indirectly

Source: National Mediation Office

Tripartite and bipartite bodies and concertation

Tripartite negotiations are rare in Sweden. Sweden has a tradition of discussion and cooperation between the social partners that establishes the terms of collective bargaining. The social partners do not welcome intervention by the government, and the tradition of self-regulation through collective bargaining by social partners is strong.

An important bipartite body is the Swedish Labour Court. This is a special court set up to rule on labour-related disputes. Both employer and employee interests are represented in the court.

In addition, a significant development in the last 10 years was the formation of the National Mediation Office in 2000, which was set up in order to help social partners reach agreements and promote a well-functioning wage structure.

Sweden also has around 10 job security councils (trygghetsråd), of which the three largest are Trygghetsrådet (TRR) for the private sector, Trygghetsfonden (TSL) for parts of the private sector and Trygghetsstiftelsen (TSN) for the central government sector. The job security councils are bipartite bodies that help employees and employers handle labour market transitions. The job security councils are based on collective agreements. They help employees who have been made redundant to find new employment.

Main tripartite and bipartite bodies

Name Type Level Issues covered 

Swedish Labour Court



Labour-related disputes

Job security councils


National and sectoral

Unemployment and labour market transitions

Workplace-level employee representation

  • Trade unions: Trade unions are the most common form of employee representation. They are present in almost all workplaces where there are collective agreements, either as local representatives or as a local branch of a trade union. Trade union representatives negotiate on issues between employers and employees. The Codetermination Act regulates employees’ right to join a trade union. The right to engage in union activities in individual workplaces is regulated in Law 1974:358 on trade union representatives’ position in the workplace.
  • Health and safety committees: Health and safety committees are present in nearly all workplaces, either in the form of a safety representative, a regional safety representative or a safety committee. The role of the health and safety representative or committee is to ensure that the employer follows work environment regulations, both physical and psychological. The Work Environment Act states that each workplace with five employees or more must have a health and safety representative. It is the Swedish Work Environment Authority’s responsibility to ensure that the Work Environment Act is followed.
  • Board representation: Employees have the right to have representatives on the board of private companies with at least 25 employees in order to gain insight into and influence the board’s work. This is regulated in Law 1987:1245 on board representation for private sector employees.

Regulation, composition and competences of the bodies

  Regulation Composition Involved in company-level collective bargaining Thresholds/rules when they need to be/can be set up 

Trade union

Law and collective agreements




Health and safety representative/ committee




Workplaces with five or more employees have health and safety representatives

Board representation




Private companies with 25 or more employees

Employee representation at establishment level


ECS 2013

Statistics Sweden


% of employees covered

% of establishments covered

% of employees covered

% of enterprises covered

Trade union representative





Health and safety representative





Board representation





Note: Private sector establishments with more than 10 employees.

* Enterprise database (FDB) from Statistics Sweden was used to estimate the proportion of employees and enterprises with a health and safety representative. It utilises data on the number of enterprises and employees by size of enterprise to calculate the proportion of enterprises and employees in businesses with at least five employees.

Source: ECS 2013 and Statistics Sweden

Collective employment relations

Collective bargaining

Bargaining system

In Sweden, social partners bargain free from government influence in both industrial relations and social dialogue. Collective agreements are a cornerstone of the Swedish system. While most collective agreements are negotiated at sectoral level, there is an increasing trend towards local-level agreements. The sectoral industry agreement, the Industrial Cooperation and Negotiation Agreement, is a benchmark for wage development in other sectors. It is becoming more common, in particular for white-collar employees, to conclude collective agreements with no stipulated wage increases (National Mediation Office, 2014a).

Most Swedish employees are covered by collective agreements, and there were over 650 collective agreements in place in 2014 according to the National Mediation Office. While the agreements are signed voluntarily, an employee organisation can take industrial action to obtain a collective agreement. Once signed, collective agreements are legally binding.

Another feature of the Swedish system is that collective agreements can differ from the law. While the law provides the framework, the social partners can negotiate terms that depart from the law, often in favour of employees.

Wage bargaining coverage

Collective wage bargaining coverage in Sweden is high by international standards: 9 out of 10 employees are covered by a collective wage agreement.

Collective wage bargaining coverage of employees at different levels




All levels


2013 – ECS

All, excluding national level


2013 – ECS

All levels


2013 – Kjellberg

Sources: Eurofound, European Company Survey 2013 (ECS), private sector companies with establishments >10 employees (NACE B–S) – multiple answers possible; Eurostat, Structure of Earnings Survey, companies >10 employees (NACE B–S), single answer: more than 50% of employees covered by such an agreement. For more information on the methodology, see here.

Despite a decline in union membership, collective bargaining coverage has remained relatively stable for the last 10 years. Nine out of 10 employees were covered by collective agreements in 2013. Collective agreement coverage is higher among blue-collar workers than among white-collar workers in the private sector; in 2013, an estimated 94% of blue-collar workers were covered while only 77% of white-collar workers were covered (Kjellberg, 2013).

Collective bargaining coverage – national data

















Source: Kjellberg (2013)

Bargaining levels

The most common level of negotiation is the sectoral level. There are normally several sectoral agreements within each sector, for example one covering blue-collar workers and another covering white-collar workers. Agreements are also negotiated at company level, but cross-sectoral agreements are uncommon. Sweden’s structure of collective bargaining has become more decentralised in recent decades (Kjellberg, 2009).

Levels of collective bargaining, 2014


National level (intersectoral)

Sectoral level

Company level



Working time


Working time


Working time

Principal or dominant level







Important but not dominant level







Existing level








The content of the sectoral agreements normally governs the agreements concluded locally. Employee insurance and pensions are examples of issues often covered at sectoral or even cross-sectoral level, while holidays and work environment issues are mostly negotiated at sectoral level. Wages and working hours are negotiated at sectoral or local level. The sectoral industry agreement, the Industrial Cooperation and Negotiation Agreement, has an intersectoral effect and is a benchmark for wage development in other sectors.

Timing of the bargaining rounds

Collective bargaining rounds tend to take place in the spring. Most agreements last for one to three years. The last major bargaining round was in 2013, when 500 of the over 650 collective agreements were renegotiated (National Mediation Office, 2014a).


Wage bargaining coordination is primarily carried out through two mechanisms. First, the Industrial Cooperation and Negotiation Agreement sets the norm for wage bargaining in Sweden. A centrally agreed percentage pay increase by employer and employee representatives in the industrial sector that aims to ensure Sweden remains competitive sets the standard for pay increases in other sectoral agreements. Second, the trade union confederations often coordinate bargaining for employees organised in different trade unions covering several sectors.

Extension mechanisms

In Sweden, it is not possible to extend collective agreements by decree or legislation. However, voluntary extension of collective agreements is rather common. Unorganised employers can sign agreements with trade unions (hängavtal). In 2013, 6% of workers in the private sector were covered by collective agreement under this type of agreement (Kjellberg, 2013). In addition, employers with collective agreements must apply the provisions of the collective agreements to their employees, even if they are not members of the signatory trade union. Consequently, trade union density in Sweden is approximately 70%, while collective bargaining coverage is approximately 90%.

Derogation mechanisms

Generally, it is not possible to derogate from collective agreements.

There was a change in Swedish law in April 2010 stipulating that unions only can impose actions in order to instate a Swedish collective agreement under certain circumstances. Unions cannot impose actions if the employer can show that the terms of employment are equal or superior to the central sector collective agreements.

Expiry of collective agreements

Negotiations start a few months before the collective agreement expires. If an agreement is not reached, a mediator is called in. If a new agreement has not been negotiated on the date that the collective agreement expires, the present agreement is normally extended until an agreement is reached.

Other aspects of working life addressed in collective agreements

  • Gender equality: Gender equality is addressed in collective bargaining and is considered important by both employers’ organisations and trade unions. Gender equality was high on the agenda in 2014 (see, for example, the seminar organised by the union Kommunal). In 2015, the National Mediation Office’s mandate was expanded to study the role that collective agreements have on gender wage equality.
  • Training: Training is becoming an increasingly important part of collective agreements. The vocational introductory jobs are aimed at young, unemployed people with little or no experience and they combine work with training. One of the agreements, between Almega and LO, also concerned introductory jobs for disabled people.
  • Parental leave: The question of pay during parental leave was a major issue in the 2013 round of collective bargaining for both blue-collar and white-collar workers, with many agreements extending the period of collectively agreed pay during parental leave.

Industrial action and disputes

Legal aspects

The Codetermination Act regulates collective agreements, employees’ right to trade union representation and the right to join a trade union or employers’ organisation. When a collective agreement is in place, the social partners have a duty not to undertake industrial action (fredsplikt). There is no law that governs the type of industrial action that is allowed.

Industrial action can take several forms. Trade unions usually begin industrial action through blockades, which implies that certain duties are not undertaken, like working overtime. If the conflict continues, more severe forms of industrial action include strikes and lockouts. The trade union, rather than the employer, is responsible for paying the employees during a strike or lockout, but this is normally less than the employee’s salary. Finally, members of a different union can take industrial action in support of the disputing union (sympatiåtgärd).

Incidence of different forms of industrial action between 2010 and 2013

Work-to-rule or refusal to do overtime


Work stoppage or strike for less than a day


Strike of a day or more


Blockade or occupation


Note: Percentage of private sector establishments reporting any form of industrial action during the indicated period.

Source: European Company Survey

Industrial action developments, 2012–­2014





Working days lost per 1,000 employees




Number of lockouts




Number of legal strikes




Number of illegal strikes




* The total number of working days lost, according to the National Mediation Office, was 37,072 in 2012, 7,084 in 2013 and 3,450 in 2014. The total number of employed people (16–64 years), according to Statistics Sweden’s Labour Force Survey, was 4,501.7 thousand in 2012, 4,545.1 thousand in 2013 and 4,588.0 thousand in 2014.

Source: National Mediation Office

Dispute resolution mechanisms

Collective dispute resolution mechanisms

The National Mediation Office is the public authority that provides mediators for collective agreement disputes, promotes efficient wage formation processes and provides public statistics on wages. A paragraph was added to the Codetermination Act in 2013 reinforcing the National Mediation Office’s role as a negotiator concerning collective bargaining between social partners, and not between individuals.

Individual dispute resolution mechanisms

The main dispute resolution mechanism for individuals is the Swedish Labour Court, which hears and rules on all labour-related disputes between employers and employees.

There was a similar number of mediations by the National Mediation Office in 2012 and 2013 (between 23 and 25 mediations). As the table shows, there were significantly fewer mediations in 2014.

Use of dispute resolution mechanisms





Number of mediations




Source: National Mediation Office

Individual employment relations

Start and termination of the employment relationship

Requirements regarding an employment contract

According to the Swedish Work Environment Authority, the minimum working age for labour that is not physically or mentally challenging is 13 years of age. For all other work, the minimum working age is 18 years.

In the private sector, the employer is generally free to choose employees as long as it is within the bounds of the law. For example, the employer cannot unlawfully discriminate. The Employment Protection Act regulates that the employer must provide written information to the employee on the conditions of the employment within one month of the employee starting. The laws concerning governmental employees are somewhat stricter and are additionally regulated in the Public Employment Act (LOA 1994:260). With some exceptions, employment contracts are permanent.

Dismissal and termination procedures

Temporary contracts expire on their termination date. Permanent contracts can be terminated for two reasons: redundancy or personal reasons. Redundancy implies that the contract is terminated for organisational reasons, such as lack of work. Personal reasons imply that the employee has not properly conducted their job.

Dismissal and termination processes are regulated in the Employment Protection Act and the Codetermination Act. Collective agreements can offer alternative procedures than those decided by law. The Employment Protection Act has been highly debated in recent years. An important aspect has been the ‘last in, first out’ principle, which implies that the person who has worked the shortest amount of time in the workplace is the first to leave if there are redundancies.

Entitlements and obligations

Parental, maternity and paternity leave

Maternity and paternity leave is called parental leave in Sweden, as both parents qualify for paid leave. Parental leave is paid for approximately 16 months (480 days). Sixty days are reserved for each parent, while the remaining 420 days can be split as the parents wish. A Gender Equality Bonus is offered to parents choosing to split the parental leave more equally (Parental benefit (Föräldrapenning)). A study by TCO finds that the proportion of parental leave taken by fathers is increasing, but remains well below maternity leave. In 2013, paternity leave represented around one-quarter of all parental leave days taken.

Statutory leave arrangements


Maximum duration

Rate of reimbursement

Who pays

Legal basis

Parental leave

480 days of paid leave, of which 60 days are reserved for each parent. Maternity leave can be taken from 60 days before the due date.

390 days based on income (if previously employed, this is often around 80% of wages), 90 days at SEK 180 (€19 as at 4 September 2015) per day.

A gender equality bonus of SEK 50 (€5 as at 4 September 2015) per parent and per day is available when the parent who has been on leave for the least amount of time has taken 60 days and the 90 days on minimum pay have been utilised. The maximum equality bonus is SEK 13,500 (€1,435 as at 4 September 2015).

Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan)

Föräldraledighetslagen (1995:584) regulates the right to have time off when having a child. Socialförsäkringsbalken (2010:110) and collective agreements regulate reimbursement.


Parental leave with more than one child

Two children: 660 days; Three children: 840 days; Four children: 1,020 days.

Two children: 480 days based on income, 180 days at SEK 180 (€19 as at 4 September 2015) per day. Three children: 660 days based on income, 180 days at SEK 180 (€19 as at 4 September 2015) per day. Three children: 840 days based on income, 180 days at SEK 180 (€19 as at 4 September 2015) per day.

Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan)

Föräldraledighetslagen (1995:584) regulates the right to have time off when having a child. Socialförsäkringsbalken (2010:110) and collective agreements regulate reimbursement.


Sick leave

When an employee is on sick leave for 14 days or less, the employee has the right to obtain sick pay for 80% of the salary, except for the first day, which is unpaid (karensdag). When the employee is sick for more than 14 days (or if unemployed), sick pay is provided by the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Sickness benefit (sjukpenning)). The employer may terminate the employment relationship as long as the termination does not contravene the Employment Protection Act.

Retirement age

Sweden has a flexible retirement system. The retirement age is between 61 and 67 years, and normally happens at 65 years of age. There are no gender differences in retirement age. Everyone has the right to work until they are 67, and there is no upper limit on when an individual must stop working.

Like elsewhere in Europe, there has been a recent debate in Sweden about whether or not to raise the retirement age – a difficult task in a country that has no firm retirement age. The former government set up an investigation (Pensionsåldersutredningen). The recommendations of the investigation, which was concluded in 2013, called for raising the retirement age interval by one to two years (GP, 2013).


Minimum wages

Sweden does not have a statutory minimum wage. Wages are set following negotiations between the social partners at sectoral and local level. Of around 500 collective agreements that were signed in 2013, nearly two-thirds contain terms regarding minimum wages or tariffs (National Mediation Office, 2014a).

For more information regarding the level and development of minimum wages, please see Eurofound’s annual update on developments in collectively agreed pay or visit Eurostat.

Collectively agreed pay outcomes

For more detailed information on the most recent outcomes in terms of collectively agreed pay, please consult Eurofound’s collective wage bargaining portal or Eurofound’s most recent annual update on developments in collectively agreed pay.

Working time

This section briefly summarises regulation and issues regarding working time, overtime, part-time work as well as working time flexibility in Sweden.

Working time regulation

Working time in Sweden is set in the Work Time Act (ATL 1982:673) and in collective agreements. While the norm is set by the law, it is possible to depart from the law in collective agreements, often to the benefit of employees.

With some exceptions, the statutory maximum weekly working time is 40 hours. This is shortened in some collective agreements. The average weekly working hours for full-time employees in 2013 was 40.8 (Eurostat). According to the Annual Leave Act (Semesterlagen 1977:480), the statutory minimum annual paid leave is 25 days.

There have been recent debates on shortening the working week in Sweden, although the law remains unaltered. In a well-publicised example, 70 employees at a nursing home in Gothenburg will reduce their working week to 30 hours per week from February 2015 in order to study the effect that this has on health, sick leave and labour market outcomes (DN, 2015).

For more detailed information on working time (including annual leave, statutory and collectively agreed working time), please consult Eurofound’s most recent annual update on working time.

Overtime regulation

Overtime is defined as time that exceeds normal working hours. For work that includes standby or on-call hours, overtime is time that exceeds on-call hours. According to the Work Time Act, on-call hours cannot exceed 48 hours per employee over a four-week period or 50 hours per month.

In general, an employee is legally not allowed to work more than 50 hours’ overtime per month and 200 hours’ overtime per year. It is possible for an employer to circumvent the law in collective agreements, but these agreements must still adhere to the EU Working Time Directive. An agreement cannot be signed where the working hours are more than 48 hours per week over a four-month period (Vision).

Employees can receive compensation for overtime under collective or individual agreements, either in the form of payment or time off in lieu. It is possible to individually negotiate for extra pay or time off in place of overtime compensation.

Part-time work

Part-time employment is defined as employment that is less than full-time employment (in other words, less than 40 hours per week). Working hours for part-time employment are determined contractually.

Extra time (mertid) for part-time work roughly corresponds to overtime for full-time work. It is defined as the hours above the contractually agreed time and below normal working hours under full-time employment. In general, an employee can work at most 200 hours of extra time per year (Vision). It is possible to negotiate different terms in collective agreements.

Part-time work is relatively prevalent in Sweden. In 2013, 26.2% of people in employment worked part time, which is above the EU28 average of 20.3%.

Working time flexibility

Working time flexibility can be negotiated in collective or local agreements. There is no legal requirement for working time flexibility in Sweden.

Flexitime is relatively common in Sweden. According to the European Company Survey 2013, nearly half of all establishments with 10 employees or more offer flexible working hours to over 80% of their employees. Flexible working hours are somewhat more common among larger establishments than smaller establishments.

Proportion of establishments reporting that some employees have the possibility to adapt the start and end of their working day according to their personal needs

Establishment size

None or fewer than 20% in the establishment

Between 20–80% in the establishment

More than 80% in the establishment

















Source: European Company Survey 2013

Health and well-being

Health and safety at work

Between 2008 and 2012, 21,000–25,000 working days were lost due to accidents at Swedish workplaces that resulted in four days’ absence or more. There was a significant drop in days lost between 2008 and 2009, in parallel with the start of the financial crisis that led to many blue-collar employees in particular losing their job. Since then, the number of days lost per 1,000 employees has been roughly stable at around 6. This is relatively low by EU standards.

The Swedish Work Environment Authority publishes statistics on the number of accidents and work-related illnesses in their statistical database, as well as the number of fatal accidents. In 2014, 30,515 occupational accidents resulted in at least one day’s absence. There were more accidents among men (17,443) than women (13,072), and most accidents happened within health and social care (6,215), manufacturing (5,782) and construction (3,253). Among the Swedish workforce, there were 45 fatal accidents in 2012, 35 in 2013 and 41 in 2014.

Accidents at work, with four days’ absence or more – working days lost







All accidents






Percent change on previous year






Per 1,000 employees






Source: Eurostat

Psychosocial risks

In Sweden, physical and psychosocial safety is regulated in the Work Environment Act (AML 1977:1160). It is the employer’s responsibility to take the precautions necessary to prevent illness and accidents in the workplace, while it is the employee’s responsibility to follow instructions and partake in work environment discussions. The employer must systematically examine and evaluate psychosocial risks and occurrences.

According to Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey, around 7 out of 10 employees in Sweden work to tight deadlines at least a quarter of the time. This proportion remained relatively stable between 2000 and 2010. Around half of employees also work more than 10 hours per day at least once per month. Finally, in 2010, 8% of employees had been subjected to discrimination over the past 12 months.

Selected working condition indicators affecting psychosocial risks





Work intensity: Working to tight deadlines at least a quarter of the time




Long working hours: Working more than 10 hours once or more per month




Discrimination: Having been subjected to discrimination at work over the past 12 months




Note: More detailed figures are available from Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey.

Source: Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey

Skills, learning and employability

National system for ensuring skills and employability

Under some collective agreements, the employer is responsible for ensuring that the employee has the right competencies (Unionen). In addition, the employee has the legal right to take study leave from work if they have been with their employer for six months or more. This is regulated under the Employee’s Right to Educational Leave Act (Studieledighetslagen 1974:981).

As mentioned above, Sweden has around 10 job security councils (trygghetsråd). These are bipartite bodies that, under collective agreements, provide support to employees and employers before and during layoffs. The job security councils offer advice, economic assistance and skill development.

The Swedish Public Employment Service (Arbetsförmedligen), an agency under the Ministry of Employment, works to match jobseekers and employers. One method is through labour market training (arbetsmarknadsutbildningar). Labour market training is a type of training that is used for the unemployed or those who are at risk of unemployment in order to increase the jobseeker’s competencies and chance of finding work.


The European Company Survey 2013 shows that more than 80% of employees in around one-third of establishments in Sweden receive paid time off for training. The share that receive paid time off for training is highest among medium-sized establishments (50–249 employees) with employee representation, while the share is lowest for medium-sized establishments without employee representation. In general, there is a somewhat greater tendency for establishments with employee representation to offer paid time off for training.

Proportion of employees receiving paid time off for training by existence of workplace employee representation and establishment size

Establishment size

Employee representation at establishment or company exists

None or fewer than 20% in the establishment

Between 20–80% in the establishment

More than 80% in the establishment































Source: European Company Survey 2013

Work organisation

Work organisation underpins economic and business development and has important consequences for productivity, innovation and working conditions. Eurofound research finds that some types of work organisation are associated with a better quality of work and employment. Therefore, developing or introducing different forms of work organisation is of particular interest because of the expected effect on productivity, efficiency and competitiveness of companies, as well as on workers’ working conditions. Ongoing research by Eurofound, based on EurWORK, the European Working Conditions Survey and the European Company Survey, monitors developments in work organisation.

For Sweden, the European Company Survey 2013 shows that between 2010 and 2013, 58% of establishments with 10 or more employees reported changes in the use of technology, 59% introduced changes in ways to coordinate and allocate the work to workers and another 23% saw changes in their working time arrangements.

A comprehensive Work Environment Survey is undertaken biannually by the Swedish Work Environment Authority. The 2013 survey found that while working conditions for young men have generally improved since 2011, working conditions for young women have worsened. Regarding exposure to physical and chemical factors, men are most commonly exposed to noise (29%) while women are most commonly exposed to skin contact with water (28%). The workload remains high, with 50–60% reporting that they have far too much to do. Since the 1990s there has also been an increase in the proportion of men and women who have difficulty sleeping due to thoughts of work, with women in 2013 showing the highest level recorded so far.

Equality and non-discrimination at work

Discrimination in Sweden is regulated by the Discrimination Act (Diskrimineringslagen 2008:567), which, among others, prohibits unlawful discrimination on the labour market. The employer has a duty to ensure the workplace is free of discrimination. Any cases of discrimination or harassment can be reported to the Equality Ombudsman (DO), a public agency with the mandate of investigating cases and bringing them to court.

Equal pay and gender pay gap

The main wage-setting debate during 2014 concerned closing the gender wage gap. Following this debate, the National Mediation Office’s mandate to promote efficient wage setting will be extended from 2015 to analyse the impact of collective agreements on gender equality.

According to data from Eurostat, the unadjusted gender pay gap in Sweden was 15.9% in 2012. The pay gap has been stable around this level since 2009. Between 2006 and 2008, the gender pay gap was one to two percentage points higher. According to the National Mediation Office’s 2013 report on gender wage differences, women’s unweighted wages were approximately 86.6% of men’s in 2013. This is an improvement of 2.9 percentage points since 2005, when women’s wages were approximately 83.7% of men’s. The unweighted wage gap has consistently been somewhat larger in the public than in the private sector. When factors such as gender, age, education, sector and occupation are controlled for in a regression analysis, the unexplained wage gap in 2013 was 5.0%.

Quota regulations

There are no labour market quota regulations in Sweden. The present government has stated that if listed companies do not have at least 40% women on their board of directors by 2016, legislation can be expected (DN, 2014).


DN (2014), ‘Fridolin hotar med kvotering i börsbolag’ [Fridolin threatens quotas in listed companies], 30 September.

DN (2015), ‘De ska jobba mindre – men med samma lön’ [They are going to work less – but for the same wage], 1 February.

GP (2013), ‘Pensionsutredningen i korthet’ [Pension investigation at a glance], 9 April.

Kjellberg, A. (2009), Industrial relations foresight 2025 for Sweden: Presentation of results and comments, updated 30 December 2010, Department of Sociology, Lund University, Lund.

Kjellberg, A. (2013), Kollektivavtalens täckningsgrad samt organisationsgraden hos arbetsgivarförbund och fackförbund [Collective bargaining coverage and union density of employers’ associations and trade unions], updated 1 July 2015, Department of Sociology, Lund University, Lund.

National Mediation Office (2014a), Avtalsrörelsen och lönebildningen 2013 [Wage bargaining and wage formation in 2013], Swedish National Mediation Office, Stockholm.

National Mediation Office, data on employers’ organisations (in Swedish) available at http://www.mi.se/kollektivavtal-lagar/arbetsgivarnas-organisationer/

National Mediation office, data on mediation and conflicts (in Swedish) available at http://www.mi.se/medling-konflikt/

National Mediation Office (2014b), Siffror och diagram om medlemsantal, organisationsgrad och kollektivavtalstäckning [Figures and diagrams on membership, union membership and collective bargaining coverage], Swedish National Mediation Office, Stockholm.

Statistics Sweden, ‘Företagsdatabasen (FDB)’ [Enterprise database], available at http://www.scb.se/NV0101/#c_undefined

Unionen, ‘Kompetensutveckling på jobbet’ [Skills development at work], available at http://www.unionen.se/rad-och-stod/kompetensutveckling-pa-jobbet

Vision, ‘Arbetstidslagen’ [The Work Time Act], available at http://vision.se/Din-trygghet/Rattigheter/Lagar-i-arbetslivet/Arbetstidslagen/

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