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Centre Party touts new Swedish labour model

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Centre Party touts new Swedish labour model
18:00 CEST+02:00
The Centre Party, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Maud Olofsson, has put itself on a collision course with Sweden's two largest parties by calling for an overhaul of the country's much vaunted labour market model.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, two days before the start of the party's annual conference, Olofsson contended that Swedish labour laws are outdated and in desperate need of reform.

Current employment regulations hinder the development of new jobs, the party argues, with the Employment Protection Act (Lagen om Anställningsskydd - LAS) coming in for particular criticism.

The Centre Party advocates replacing LAS with a new "mini-LAS". Currently, under the terms of the Act, companies with up to ten staff members are permitted to exempt a maximum of two employees from the principle of "last-in, first-out".

The Centre Party's proposal entails extending this principle to enable companies consisting of up to fifty people to exempt ten employees, while firms with forty members of staff could exempt eight people, and so on.

In order to make the proposal a marketable political product, the party has called for the simultaneous introduction of four new measures, two of which are aimed at wage earners and two at employers.

For employees, the party is prepared to raise unemployment benefits to 80 percent for a worker's first three months out of a job. Furthermore, wage earners making regular contributions to a skills development account - a form of individual retraining insurance - are to be eligible for tax deductions.

Employers meanwhile are promised more flexible employment laws and lower social charges.

Olofsson admitted that the proposal would likely lead the party into a war on two fronts, as neither the Moderate Party nor the opposition Social Democrats are in favour of altering Sweden's current labour market legislation.

"But we're not going to change our mind just because others think differently," she said.

In the long term, Olofsson said she would like to leave hiring and firing decisions entirely in the hands of employers with the current proposal constituting an initial step along that path. But she also insisted that the party was keen to find compromises that would appeal to groups representing both employers and employees.

"The unions have said they have a sense of insecurity. If that's the price we have to pay for changes to LAS then we're willing to pay it. But we're not prepared just to raise unemployment insurance payments; the measures will all be introduced at the same time," she said.

The Centre Party has also put forward a range of other proposals to stimulate the job market including salaries for apprentices, an extension of trial employment periods to two years and the removal of age restrictions for company start-up grants.

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