Workers ditch unions but keep benefits

Unions in Sweden are having a rough time keeping their members. More and more workers are turning their backs on the unions – once cherished as a cornerstone in the country’s labour market – and are turning directly to unemployment benefit funds for support.

The Hotel and Restaurant Union’s unemployment benefit fund (a-kassa) has noticed that all the more want to participate in the fund, but not in the union.

Three years ago, 17 percent of the fund’s 70,000 members were not affiliated with the union. Today, the figure has increased to 23 percent.

“The trend looks as though it is noticeably going up the entire time,” said Anna-Lena Lundh, spokeswoman at the Hotel and Restaurant benefit fund. “There are many young people who are members in the Hotel and Restaurant benefit fund. You just don’t have as many who belong to the union too.”

The trend applies to many of the 36 benefit funds that are divided up according to industry. Since 2003, the direct applications to the benefit funds have gone up, from 640,000 to over 750,000 people, while the total number of members in the benefit funds has remained stable at nearly 3.8 million.

This is a sign that the national trade union participation is failing, said Anna-Lena Lundh.

The reason to pass on membership in the union but to be part of the benefit fund and have the possibility to get unemployment benefits are varying.

Many say belonging to a union is too expensive.

“That’s just the way it is,” said Marie Grönlund, a restaurant worker in Stockholm, to Radio Sweden. “I thought it was too expensive to be with the union, I stayed with the benefit fund.”

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