Sweden: latest working life developments Q2 2018

A historic agreement on industrial action regulations and a narrowing gender pay gap are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Sweden in the second quarter of 2018.

Social partners agree on new strike regulations

In June, social partners reached an agreement on new strike regulations. According to the new agreement, workers are not allowed to strike if they are employed by employers who have already signed a collective agreement and if the objective of the strike is something other than persuading the employer to sign a collective agreement.1 If the purpose of the strike is not clear, the Labour Court can make a ruling on the basis of how the negotiations have been handled and whether the organisations are usually inclined to favour collective agreements.

The background to the deal is the long-running dispute in the Port of Gothenburg and the subsequent warning from the Government that if the conflict cannot be resolved by the usual means a legislative solution must be found. Given the bipartite nature of the Swedish labour market model, and in order to avoid further government involvement, a working group consisting of representatives from the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO), the Confederation of Professional Employees (TCO), the Swedish Confederation of Transport Enterprises, the Association of Swedish Engineering Industries and the Swedish Association of Industrial Employers was formed to work on a joint social partner proposal.

Several social partner representatives – unions as well as employers – have compared the significance of this deal to that of the Saltsjöbaden Agreement, the labour market treaty signed by social partners in 1938 which formed the basis of the current bipartite bargaining system and the general principles for conflict resolution, generally known as the ‘Swedish Model’.

The social partners’ proposal has received support from all political parties except the Left Party.The Minister for Employment, Ylva Johansson, welcomed the news and stated that a well-constructed proposal drafted jointly by the social partners should take precedence over any other proposals.

However, the proposal has also received criticism for opening up to so-called ‘yellow’ unions – those dominated or influenced by employers. Mats Glavå, a labour law researcher at Gothenburg University, stated that new employers would be able to choose employer-friendly unions to bargain with, thereby preventing other unions from using strike action, if not specifically to get a collective agreement.3

Gender pay gap continues to shrink

A new report from the National Mediation Office shows that the difference between men’s and women’s average wages is decreasing. In 2017, the gap decreased by 6% (0.7 percentage points) and is now at 11.3%. This follows a downward pay gap trend of over a decade. The smallest gap is in the municipal sector and the largest decrease was seen in the private sector among white-collar workers. When controlling for occupation, sector, education, working time and age, the remaining (unexplained) gap is 4.3%. Possible explanations for this development are that women’s average education level continues to increase and that more women now hold managerial positions.


The main news item in the third quarter of 2018 will no doubt be the general election, to be held on 9 September. A recent survey revealed the most important topics for voters to be healthcare, immigration, education and the environment.


1 Arbetsvärlden (2018), Parterna överens om konflikträtten, 5 June.

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