LO “suppressed unemployment report”

Sweden's trade union organisation, LO, has been accused of trying to suppress a report that claimed that the real number of unemployed people in Sweden could be much higher than the five percent shown in official figures.

The report’s author, Jan Edling, resigned from LO last week claiming that the organisation was trying to block his report, which he had spent five years writing. He accused LO’s leadership of being motivated by a desire to protect the Social Democratic Party from embarrassment.

Now both the content and the ensuing internal strife have been made public. The report was published by Timbro on its website.

Five percent of Swedes of working age are currently classed as unemployed. A further three percent are occupied in state-organised job schemes. The controversy surrounding Edling’s report centres on his interpretation of the 700,000 Swedes who are either on long-term sick leave or in early retirement. Edling asks how many of these people are in fact unemployed.

Edling focuses on certain regions with high numbers of people on sick leave and in early retirement, and concludes that the real reason that people are not in work is that there are no jobs.

“The shortage of jobs is channeled partly into early retirement and sick leave,” he told Dagens Nyheter.

Edling criticises the government’s current policies to tackle unemployment, and says that better business policies are needed to help areas with high jobless figures.

LO’s failure to publish the report has been slammed by Edling as politically motivated.

“They are worried that the fact that someone at LO is saying that early retirement is actually unemployment will play into the Moderates’ hands,” he told DN, but claimed that all he wanted was for the government to understand that a new policy was needed that “creates growth in all regions.”

LO claims that it delayed publication of the report in order to complement it with suggestions for how the Swedish job market can be improved.

“The problem with the report is not the Jan Edling’s analysis, it is the fact that the analysis dominates.” Leif Håkansson, LO vice chairman told DN.

In an attempt to address criticism, LO announced on Friday that it would hold a debate entitled “How high is unemployment?” at which Edling would participate.

In a press release, the organisation said that the debate was being held to tackle suggestions that “such a discussion is too sensitive and in some way was not accepted internally within LO”. The debate will take place on Wednesday at ‘LO Towers’, the organisation’s Stockholm headquarters.

Debating with Edling will be senior representatives from LO, the Social Insurance Office, and “experts from government authorities and researchers.”

The feeling that LO will not brook dissent has been reinforced by the departure of LO ombudsman Olle Sahlström. Aftonbladet reported that three years ago Sahlström publically criticized LO. He spoke out that LO was a bit too close to the Social Democratic Party and that the union was becoming political.

Sahlström was called unloyal and found himself for two years without an assignment. Recent negotiations resulted in an early retirement deal.

“Those who don’t hold the party line are damned” Sahlström said.

Elizabeth Dacey-Fondelius/ James Savage