Sweden: Latest developments in working life Q1 2019

The launch of the new government’s policy programme, the resolution of the dockworkers’ conflict and new research on paternity leave 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 2019.

New government in place four months after general election

On 17 January, the Swedish parliament voted to give Swedish Social Democratic Party Leader Stefan Löfven a second term in office. The re-election of Prime Minister Löfven was made possible when the Swedish Social Democratic Party and the Green Party were able to reach a deal with the Centre Party and the Liberals. This deal ended four months of political deadlock that began after the September 2018 elections resulted in a hung parliament. [1]

While the Centre Party and the Liberals are not formally a part of the new government, they were actively involved in negotiations relating to policy direction. These negotiations resulted in a 73-point policy programme covering all major policy areas, including issues related to the economy, labour market, regional growth, environment and climate, housing, education, healthcare, migration and security. In terms of labour market policy, the four parties agreed to cut the payroll tax and reform the Public Employment Service and employment protection regulations. They also plan to restructure the unemployment insurance system in line with a ‘flexicurity’ model (i.e. a model that aims to reconcile employers’ need for a flexible workforce with workers’ need for security).

Port of Gothenburg conflict resolved

The Port of Gothenburg has been the centre of a dispute between management and trade unions since 2016. The dispute first arose when the Swedish Dockworkers’ Union (SDU) demanded its own collective bargaining agreement with site owner APM Terminals, despite an agreement already being in place with the competing Swedish Transport Workers’ Union (Transport).

After years of industrial actions and failed negotiations, APM Terminals warned of an extensive lockout in February and early March 2019. The SDU sent a conflict notice in response, stating that if no resolution had been reached by 6 March around 1,000 workers were prepared to go on strike.

Hours before the start of the planned strike, the long-running dispute was finally resolved and a compromise was reached. The SDU was granted a collective bargaining agreement with APM Terminals, although this agreement will be of secondary importance to the existing agreement between APM Terminals and Transport. In practice, the SDU will be entitled to represent its members in court and conduct work safety rounds, but will not be able to make its own amendments to the pre-existing agreement. The new agreement is the SDU’s first since the union was formed in 1972, and the union will be under a peace obligation for the duration of it.

Legal reforms are still underway, despite the conflict’s resolution. In Q2 of 2018, Swedish social partners agreed on a proposal for new strike regulations. [2] This proposal was the result of a warning from the government that if the Gothenburg conflict was not resolved, a legislative solution would be found. The proposed change will mean that trade unions cannot take industrial action against an employer with the aim of making that employer sign a collective agreement, if the employer already has a collective agreement with another union.

With the Gothenburg conflict resolved, the statements issued by social partners and the government confirming that the reform plans would still go ahead were greeted with surprise. Criticism was particularly directed toward the trade unions involved in the deal. The Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) replied stating that bipartite negotiations and subsequent discussions with the government had progressed too far to be abandoned. Furthermore, according to the unions involved, the proposal means that important progress has been made towards preventing future ‘agreement shopping’. [3] The new strike rules are due to enter into force on 1 August 2019.

Increase in fathers’ uptake of parental leave

On 6 March, the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (TCO) published its annual Gender Equality Index. The results showed that while the uptake of parental leave by fathers has increased over the past few years, the rate at which it has increased means that it will not match that of mothers until 2040. [4] In 2018, 70% of all parental leave days or leave days to care for a sick child were taken by women. Mothers, on average, are on leave from work for 14.5 months during the first few years of a child’s life, while fathers are on leave for an average of 3.8 months.

In a recent study, researchers at the University of Gothenburg investigated workplace barriers for fathers when it comes to taking parental leave. [5] Based on interviews with 56 employees in five large private companies, the results showed that masculine workplace culture can make it difficult for fathers to take a longer period of leave. Workplace culture and structure seems to be based on assumptions that the ideal worker prioritises work and has limited caregiving responsibilities, which sets limits on the ability of fathers to share leave with mothers. A shortage of staff resources, the lack of organisational systems and lack of routines for arranging paternity leave are also shown to be major obstacles.


  1. ^ Eurofound (2018), Sweden: Latest working life developments Q3 2018 .
  2. ^ Eurofound (2018), Sweden: latest working life developments Q2 2018 .
  3. ^ Arbetet (2019), ”LO står fortfarande bakom lagförslag om strejkrätten” , 12 March.
  4. ^ TCO (2019), Jämställdhetsindex , 6 March.
  5. ^ Haas, L. and Hwang, P. (2017), ‘ Policy is not enough – the influence of gendered workplace on fathers' use of parental leave in Sweden ’, Community, Work & Family, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 58–76.

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