Experimental sabbatical leave scheme launched

In February 2002, the Swedish government launched an experimental sabbatical leave scheme in 10 municipal areas. Under the scheme, employees may take up to one year of sabbatical leave if they are replaced in their job by an unemployed person. During the leave, the employees involved receive a state benefit equivalent to 85% of unemployment benefit.

The minority Social Democratic Party (Socialdemokratiska Arbetarepartiet, SAP) government announced in its national budget bill for 2002 that it would present a proposal on 'experimental activities' regarding sabbatical leave in 10 municipal areas, as a result of an agreement with the Left Party (Vänsterpartiet) and the Green Party (Miljöpartiet De Gröna). The experiment should start in early 2002 and last to the end of 2004. The government subsequently agreed on the measure and presented the framework for the project, which begins in February 2002, in December 2001.

Under the experimental scheme, employees working in the private and public sector in 10 chosen municipalities may apply for a year's sabbatical leave. The municipalities are situated in all regions of the country, both small and large, and with or without labour market problems: Botkyrka (near Stockholm), Gällivare, Göteborg (the second largest town in Sweden), Hultsfred, Hällefors, Katrineholm, Landskrona, Lund (near Malmö), Piteå, Strömsund, Västerås och Åmål. In Hultsfred and Katrineholm, there have been many redundancies lately, while in Hällefors the youth unemployment rate is rather high; the other municipalities are 'normal' in labour market terms. The sabbatical leave experiment will be monitored by a governmental working group.

The idea of the sabbatical scheme is that a person who has been employed at least for two years should be able to take leave for up to one year, and that his or her job will be taken over by an unemployed person, as a 'substitute worker'. There should be an agreement about the replacement arrangements as well as acceptance by the employer.

The workers on leave will receive a state payment equivalent to 85% of the unemployment benefit they would receive if they were unemployed. The substitute worker who is employed to replace the worker on leave will receive pay in line with the relevant collective agreement and the usual employment conditions at the workplace. If workers on sabbatical leave wish to study or stay at home to look after their children, they will receive the state benefit. They may also start and run their own company while receiving the benefit. However, they may not take employment elsewhere or work as temporary staff in their 'old' workplace while receiving the benefit.

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