Government cracks down on sick leave

Sweden's parliament has passed plans to tackle the country's high rate of sick leave, including cutting sick benefits to encourage people to go back to work.

The Riksdag passed on Wednesday government changes to the sick benefits system, under which people off work sick and who earn less than 33,000 kronor a month are paid 80 percent of their salary by the state.

Under the new system, to be introduced on January 1st, the full 80 percent benefits will only be paid to people on salaries of up to 25,000 kronor. Sick benefits for unemployed people will be reduced from a current maximum of 521 kronor to 486 kronor.

Parliament also passed changes that will lead to cuts in old-age pensions for people who have been in so-called early retirement. From January their pensions will be calculated on 80 percent of their income rather than 93 percent.

The Social Democrats and pensioners’ group PRO said the changes broke previous cross-party pension agreements. But social insurance minister Cristina Husmark Pehrsson said that the most important thing was to “avoid obstacles to getting people back to work, and to stimulate people to go back.”

In a separate development, the Swedish Board of Social Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) and the Swedish Social Insurance Administration (Försäkringskassan) on Thursday handed the government a programme to improve the sick benefits system.

Socialstyrelsen has drafted a series of principles that should be abided by when dealing with particular illnesses. Guidelines will be set for the length of time people with certain illnesses should be on sick leave.

It is also recommended that doctors’ training include a course on sick leave and sick notes. The report also proposed that people on sick leave should write a plan together with Försäkringskassan and employers to work out how to get back into the workforce.