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'Swedish ministers get paid to be off sick'

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Lööf, Björklund, and Reinfeldt. File: TT
14:27 CEST+02:00
Several Swedish cabinet ministers have failed to report being off sick, even as one tweeted about 40C fever. The oversight has allowed them to avoid the first-day-off reduction in salary that all Swedes face when feeling too poorly to work.

The Dagens Nyheter newspaper reported on Tuesday that 17 ministers had failed to report when they were off ill. Swedish remuneration laws dictate that employees do not get paid the first day they off due to illness, but the ministers - including the prime minister - have continued to draw salaries even when they were feeling too poorly to work. 

In 2010, for example, Fredrik Reinfeldt was too ill to travel to Brussels for an EU meeting, sending an aide instead. But he didn't officially register that he was off sick, which would have meant 4,645 kronor ($715) less at the end of the month when the prime minister's 144,000-kronor ($22,000) salary was paid out.

Since taking power in 2006, Reinfeldt has worked with a total of 38 cabinet ministers - only three of them, including Finance Minister Anders Borg, have reported being ill. 

The IT Minister Anna-Karin Hatt has, rather fitting for her job title, taken to Twitter to tell the world when she has been off sick with a high fever. None of the dates she has mentioned on the micro-blogging site turned up in the social security agency's records when DN cross-referenced them.

The legal head at the prime minister's office, Christina Weihe, defended the ministers laxness by stating that they were on call 24/7 when they were fit and healthy. She also told DN that it had long been standard culture at the government departments for ministers to decide whether they came into work on any given day.

DN's political commentator Ewa Stenberg said the risk was that Swedish citizens felt the ministers had behaved like hypocrites. The prime minister has since taking office emphasized good social security bookkeeping, clear social insurance rules, and put much of his rhetorical weight behind labour policy reform.

"That makes it very controversial when ministers don't report in sick when they are in fact off sick," Stenberg said.

While some observers argued that the bookkeeping was unlikely to damage the government's image much,  political science professor Tommy Möller said that this kind of revelation usually piqued the interest of people who already have a low opinion of elected officials. 

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"In groups that are socially and politically vulnerable this type of news is often noticed, and it's added to an already existing scorn of politicians," Möller told the TT news agency.

"The recurring theme is that politicians get rich at the expense of normal people." 

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