Telework in Sweden

Since the 1960s, telework has been steadily increasing as a form of employment in Sweden. This is the result of the rapid development in telecommunications tools and the fact that employees increasingly have access to a computer at home. Teleworkers are to be found mostly in economic sectors such as communications, financial intermediation and services. In 2005, the number of teleworkers stood at approximately 230,000 people.

Definition and prevalence of teleworkers

It has been difficult to quantify the number of teleworkers in Sweden in the past: in 1998, a government survey estimated the number of teleworkers at between 30,000 and 500,000 employees (Distansarbetsutredningen, Statens offentliga utredningar (SOU), 1998: 115), which represented a rough indication of teleworking in Sweden. More recent information in 2005 indicated that the number of teleworkers reached between 200,000 and 300,000 employees.

One definition refers to teleworkers as those employees who, on average, need to work outside the company premises for half a day a week while having access to the company’s information technology (IT) system. This definition is used by Statistics Sweden (Statistika centralbyrån, SCB) in its 2004 report on the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) and the internet in Swedish enterprises (Företagens användning av datorer och Internet (744Kb PDF)).

According to the results of the 2005 Work Environment Survey (Arbetsmiljöundersökningen 2005 (235Kb PDF)), some 76.8% of all employees never work from home, while 17.8% of employees occasionally work from home a couple of hours a week; according to the above definition, the latter category of employees cannot clearly be considered as teleworkers. The survey results further revealed that 2.9% of employees work at home one to two days a week and 0.9% do so three to four days a week, while 1.6% of employees work at home essentially all of their working time. On the basis of these last three categories, about 5.4% of all employees can be considered as teleworkers.

In terms of absolute numbers, SCB indicated an employment rate of 4,262,600 people in 2005; based on these data, it could be estimated that about 230,180 employees were teleworking in Sweden in 2005. When comparing these findings with those of the last Work Environment Survey (Arbetsmiljöundersökningen 2003 (1Mb PDF)) carried out in 2003, this represents a slight decline in the proportion of teleworkers from 6.8% in 2003 to 5.4% in 2005.

Occupational and sectoral distribution

The most recent SCB survey on the use of ICT and the internet in Swedish companies reveals that the most common professional categories among teleworkers remain white-collar workers, researchers, teachers and journalists. The same survey indicates that, in 2004, the sectors of the economy which showed the highest proportion of teleworkers included communications, with 66% of teleworkers, financial intermediation, with 63%, and services, with 60%. The lowest incidence rates of teleworking were found in the construction sector, with 13% of teleworkers, and in the transport sector, with 25%; these findings were similar to those of previous surveys. Furthermore, the larger the company is, the higher the probability of teleworking: for instance, 90% of companies with more than 500 employees had teleworkers, while only 30% of the smaller companies with 10 to 19 employees counted teleworkers among their workforce.

Regulatory framework

In 2003, the Swedish social partners agreed a set of joint guidelines on the national implementation of the European framework agreement on telework (107Kb PDF), which was concluded by the European social partners in 2002 (SE0309102N).

The Swedish social partners who signed the joint guidelines in 2003 comprised, on the trade union side, the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (Landsorganisationen i Sverige, LO), the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (Tjänstemännens Centralorganisation, TCO) and the Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations (Akademikernas Centralorganisation, SACO). On the employer side, signatories included the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv), the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (Sveriges Kommuner och Landsting, SKL) and the Swedish Agency for Government Employers (Arbetsgivarverket).

Implementation in the public sector

The EU framework agreement on telework has now been fully implemented in Sweden through national and sectoral collective agreements. For public sector employees, the provisions of the telework agreement were implemented during the collective bargaining rounds in 2005, according to a report by the European social partners on the Implementation of the European framework agreement on telework (1.4Mb PDF). The public sector at municipal and regional level already had a regulation covering telework in place before the EU framework agreement was signed in 2002. Nonetheless, since 2005, all of these sectors have included the EU framework agreement in their collective agreements.

Implementation in the private sector

As for the private economy, most sectors have included the provisions of the EU framework agreement on telework in their collective agreements. However, the level of implementation varies across sectors. Some sectors have agreed that the employer organisation needs to inform its members about the EU framework agreement on telework. In some cases, there is no need for regulation since telework does not exist or regulation has not been required. In other sectors, certain guidelines covering teleworkers are applied, which are based on the EU framework agreement although the agreement’s provisions are not specifically included in a collective agreement; for example, this is the case of professionals covered by SACO.

Views of social partners and government

Neither the social partners nor the government wish to establish any specific legislation targeting teleworkers, since they consider that the current labour law and other legislation are in effect applicable to teleworkers.

Paul Andersson, Oxford Research

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