Sweden takes workers’ rights seriously. And these rights are not just protected through individual employee contracts, but are regulated by law. Workers in Sweden also enjoy the benefits of powerful labor unions and generally supportive employers.
Collective bargaining power
Five weeks of paid vacation, more than a year of parental leave and employer pension contributions: Sweden’s long tradition of labor market policies has resulted in all kinds of employee benefits written into law. Collective bargaining has played a central role, as well as a well-established culture of cooperation between employers, employees and unions.
In most Swedish workplaces, there is a collective agreement. A collective agreement is an agreement between unions and employers on wages and working conditions in force at the workplace: wages, working hours, compensation for sickness leave and injury, etc. The collective agreement includes insurance for employees, such as sickness and accident insurance.
Swedish trade and labor unions have been important in organizing workers in both the private and public sectors. One of their main roles is to drive and support collective bargaining, in which unions negotiate with employers to ensure a common set of rights that apply to all employees at a workplace, regardless of whether or not they are union members.
Collective bargaining agreements vary from sector to sector. Whether it applies to work contracts, working hours, equality or other working conditions, each agreement has full legal force. This means that if a dispute arises, it can be negotiated by the local union directly with the employer, or by the national union at a regional or central level.
The collective agreement is your guarantee that the same rules apply for you as for other employees and sets a limit on minimum conditions. The employer can of course offer better terms than what the collective agreement states — but not worse. If a workplace has no collective agreement, it is the employer who determines the conditions. The local union can help you establish collective bargaining at the workplace.
Always make sure to ask your union or employer about your specific rights and benefits.
The Work Environment Act
Swedish employers, employees and equipment suppliers share a common responsibility for maintaining a safe working environment. The Work Environment Act outlines the regulations that make this possible, including measures to restrict workplace hazards, prevent accidents and otherwise protect the physical and mental health of employees.
The employer has the main responsibility for planning and controlling efforts to improve the work environment, while employees are required to follow safety instructions and use the available protective equipment. Manufacturers and suppliers of machinery and technical equipment are also responsible for ensuring safe operating conditions.
As with many aspects of life in Sweden, children and young people are carefully protected. No one under 16 years of age may be employed, except for non-hazardous tasks such as office work. Similarly, children under the age of 13 may only do work that doesn’t require physical or mental strain, such as handing out leaflets or selling magazines.
Legally, the Swedish Work Environment Authority and regional Labor Inspectorates ensure that the Act’s requirements are followed. However, since most Swedish workplaces are relatively open and non-hierarchical, health and safety issues are often discussed and resolved informally among workers and employers.
The Swedish Work Environment Authority also supplies information concerning terms and conditions of employment applying in connection with posting of workers to Sweden. A posted employee is a person who has been sent to another country by her/his employer in order to work there for a limited period of time.
Read more about posting of workers at the Swedish Work Environment Authority.
Employment security and stability are highly valued in Sweden. For this reason, a number of labor laws exist in order to protect employment rights, and to ensure that employees are not dismissed without proper notice. In most cases, both employees and their unions must be notified in advance about any circumstances that might affect their employment.
The Employment Protection Act is intended to increase job security. It prohibits dismissal without proper notice, usually between one and three months in advance, depending on how long you have been employed by a company. Normally, it is difficult for a permanent employee to be dismissed, unless there happens to be a shortage of work, in which case even those who have been dismissed are guaranteed priority for re-employment for up to nine months after their dismissal.
The Employment (Co-Determination in the Workplace) Act establishes rules for relationships and negotiations between employer and employee organizations. It requires employers to notify trade unions with regular information about the company’s financial status and personnel policies, as well as about any downsizing or restructuring plans. The act also contains agreements regarding meaningful work tasks, often including mandatory skill development regulations.
The Trade Union Representatives (Status at the Workplace) Act was drafted to protect trade union representatives, ensuring their job security and making it easier to perform their trade union duties. It guarantees union representatives’ wage and employment benefits and forbids dismissal in cases where the representative is necessary at the workplace.
Every person in Sweden is legally protected from discrimination, both in public and in the workplace. On a daily basis, this means that people expect to be treated with respect, regardless of their beliefs or appearance. Swedish law forbids discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation or functional disabilities. At work, the laws apply to all employers, employees and candidates, regardless of whether or not the discrimination is intentional.
In serious cases, workplace discrimination might involve unfair treatment in terms of wages, employment conditions, promotion opportunities or direct harassment. If someone is accused of discrimination, the employer is responsible for investigating the situation and taking appropriate measures. If a law is broken, an employer may then be required to pay damages.
However, Swedish culture can often be as effective as the law in preventing discrimination. Sexist or racist jokes, for example, are not tolerated. As a nation, Sweden prides itself on equality, so even the slightest suggestion that a person is less valuable, or that a woman might not be able to perform a certain kind of work, is considered very offensive to many people.
As a further protection of equality rights, employees may not be punished for filing a report of discrimination. It is therefore important for all employees to be aware of the specific laws that apply, and to know which authorities are responsible for making sure that their rights are upheld. The central government authority for this is the Discrimination Ombudsman (Diskrimineringsombudsmannen), also known as DO.