Sweden: Latest working life developments – Q4 2017
Plans to raise the earliest retirement age and the right to remain employed for longer despite concerns by social partners, and research on attitudes towards industrial action in different income groupsare the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Sweden in the fourth quarter of 2017.
Rise in the pension age-span
In 2016, the average age of retirement in Sweden was 64.5 years (PDF). Technically, Sweden does not have a statutory pension age, but rather a pension 'age-span' of between 61 and 67 years of age; with 61 being the earliest age from which a person can start receiving their income-based pension, and 67 the age until which a person has the right to remain employed. In December 2017, the government announced plans to raise the earliest retirement age from 61 to 64. The proposal is likely to be approved as it is the product of a cross-party working group, which has argued that due to increased life expectancy, there is a need for the reform in order to secure future pensions. The reform also includes an extension of the right to remain employed from 67 to 69 years of age.
Swedish social partners are largely in favour of the proposal. However, some challenges have been identified. The Municipal Workers’ Union (Kommunal) has expressed concerns that, due to a tough working environment and insecure employment conditions (particularly in the health and childcare sectors), many of its members are already struggling to stay in work throughout their fifties and early sixties and their average retirement age is currently only 63. Thus, this group is likely to suffer disproportionately from the reform. On the employers’ side, the main concern is the employees’ extended right to remain employed. The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv) warns that this will make employers even less likely to hire people over the age of 60, as the risks connected to employing older workers thereby become too high.
Link between income level and industrial action
In 2017, sociology researcher Johanna Palm at Stockholm University published a report on attitudes towards industrial action in Sweden (PDF). She used a mixed-methods approach, including data from a national sample of 1,851 employees and 10 in-depth interviews with various categories of employees. In the statistical analysis, five different variables had significant effects on attitudes towards industrial action: class; union membership; sector of employment; size of workplace; and age.
Unskilled workers showed the most support for industrial action, followed by skilled workers and lower-lever white-collar workers. Among unskilled workers in the public sector, 47% supported industrial action, compared to only 15% among higher-lever white-collar employees. However, income was more important than title. The higher the income, the lower the willingness to use industrial action, regardless of occupation. Furthermore, the stronger the subjective feeling of having influence in the workplace, the lower the willingness to take part in strikes or blockades.
There were also statistically significant differences between public and private sector employees, which remained even after controlling for both wage and work influence. Larger workplaces were related to a higher willingness to strike. Gender and a person’s type of employment contract showed no significant effect and, when controlled for wage, the effect of age disappeared.
After several years of springtime unrest in Swedish industrial relations, several multiple-year collective agreements were signed in 2017. As a result, there is no major bargaining round coming up in 2018. Instead, the main issue of debate in the first quarter of 2018 is likely to be the changes to the conflict regulations, proposed as a solution to the drawn-out Gothenburg port conflict.