Sweden: Latest working life developments Q3 2018

The outcome of the Swedish election in September and the working conditions of Swedish firefighters in the wake of the summer’s unprecedented wild fires are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Sweden in the third quarter of 2018.

Outcome of Swedish general election still unclear

The Swedish general election was held on 9 September, but resulted in a hung parliament as neither of the two major blocs secured a parliamentary majority. The left bloc, ‘the Red-Green coalition’, secured 144 seats, while the centre-right bloc, ‘the Alliance coalition’, secured 143. In addition, the nationalist anti-immigration party the Sweden Democrats secured 62 seats. [1]

It was still unclear which parties would be forming a new government by the end of the third quarter, making the future of Swedish labour market policies equally unclear as the two blocs differ on many points.

Swedish firefighters contend with raging forest fires

The record temperatures in Europe this summer caused more than 60 forest fires to sweep through the northern parts of Sweden at the same time. [2] As a result, Swedish forests became subject to the largest EU civil protection operation in the last decade, with all firefighters in the county called into work (despite many being on holiday) and help being received from Poland, Italy, Germany and France.

This situation not only put climate change back on the political agenda, but also opened a window of opportunity for trade unions to pursue improvements in working conditions for Swedish firefighters. For example, the National Association of Swedish Firefighters (BRF) called for a special commission to investigate the well-being of Swedish firefighters. [3]

Furthermore, it became clear that the Swedish firefighting working model – which consists of both full-time and part-time firefighters – was unfair in situations where the entire force must work side-by-side, as part-time firefighters receive just half the salary of full-time ones. [4]  And according to Yvonne Chevallerau, ombudsman at Kommunal, another of the trade unions organising firefighters, there is also a limit to how much overtime firefighters are allowed to work per year and many have already exceeded this limit due to the fires this summer. While they will still be compensated for this additional work, employers predict that planning for future staffing levels is going to become more difficult going forward. [5]

In order to manage forest fires more effectively in the future, the Swedish government instructed the Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) to analyse the equipment needs of firefighters, current firefighting personnel and Sweden’s capacity to fight fires from the air. There government also pledged to invest further in education and firefighter recruitment. [6] Despite this, trade union representative Christer Nyberg worried that the memory of the fierce summer for firefighters would be forgotten once negotiations for the new collective agreements started again in 2019. [7] 

Commentary

The main topic of interest in the fourth quarter of 2018 will almost certainly be the general election. There are a number of potential outcomes and the risk of the election being re-run if the parties are unable to reach an agreement.

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