Social partners sign pact on youth unemployment

An initiative on jobs for young people in Sweden which combines work and education has been agreed. The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions and the Swedish Municipal Workers’ Union have signed up to the proposals. The agreement is an important step towards tackling the high unemployment rate among young people in the country. Called ‘working life introductory positions’, the jobs are available for people between 19 and 25 and are mainly in health care.

Background

The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR, in Swedish) and the Swedish Municipal Workers’ Union (Kommunal) have signed an agreement (in Swedish, 272Kb PDF) on ‘working life introductory positions’. The aim of the agreement is to encourage municipalities, county councils, regions and municipality owned companies to offer ‘starter jobs’ to unemployed people between 19 and 25.

Working life introductory positions are jobs with a one year contracts where work is combined with education. According to the agreement, the young person should be assigned a supervisor and given an introductory plan. Of the total working hours, no more than 75% should be taken up with work, while the remaining 25% should be used for education relevant to the work carried out as well as supervision.

Health care sector leads the way

It is intended that, primarily, the agreement will be used in the health and social care sectors. However, local partners will be able to agree on the setting up of introductory positions in other businesses as well. The positions will be available specifically to people between 19 and 25 who are unemployed and in need of work experience in order to establish themselves on the labour market.

The agreement was signed because of the high number of unemployed people under the age of 25 within SALAR’s and Kommunal’s agreement area. The number is estimated to be approximately 23,000. The two social partners agree that helping young people without working life experience to break into employment is a common challenge. In addition, local governments and county councils are facing a significant generational shift among its staff that reinforces the need for new employees.

Ingela Gardner Sundström, Chair of the negotiating team for SALAR, said in a press realease (in Swedish) that recruitment promotion was essential to ensure long-term skills needs were met in local government and county councils. She said it was important that the health sector took responsibility for ensuring the long-term quality of care, and this included the future supply of staff.

Similar to government scheme

The idea behind the agreement is similar to the job pact strategy initiated by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in the summer of 2012 (SE1208019I). At the core of the strategy was an initiative encouraging closer cooperation between trade unions and employers. The overall aim was to tackle youth unemployment by allowing young people under the age of 25 to combine work and education.

The negotiations between trade unions and the employer organisations about the job pact, however, stalled in January 2013. The breakdown in talks was due to disagreements between the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) and the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv) (SE1302019I).

Agneta Jöhnk, Head of the Employer Policy Division at SALAR, said in an interview that Kommunal and SALAR were the first social partners to sign this kind of agreement after the job pact negotiations. She emphasised that SALAR considered it important to set an example and show there were opportunities for a job pact strategy in the health care sector.

Concerns over financing of the initiative

Although the agreement has been signed by both parties, the details about how it will be financed are still unclear. The employer should provide a salary of up to 75% of the working time, but will not be expected to fund the 25% of education and supervision time. Money is also needed for training the supervisors.

Agneta Jöhnk said the success of the initiative was dependent on the allocation of resources from the Swedish Government. So far, SALAR has not received any information about potential financial backing from the government, but it was hoping to receive funding from 2014.

Commentary

Given the disagreements during the job pact strategy negotiations, it is interesting to see similar measures being used by social partners to tackle unemployment among young people. The next step is, however, to see if the government can be persuaded to allocate resources to the initiative in the bill for 2014, presented in the autumn of 2013.

Emilia Johansson and Jenny Nordlöw, Oxford Research

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