Three things to know before you start working in Sweden

For non-Swedes, the Swedish labour market can seem positively baffling. But once you’ve figured it out, you can begin reaping the many benefits of the famous ‘Swedish Model’.

Published: Tue 20 Mar 2018 11:02 CEST
Three things to know before you start working in Sweden
Photo: Pixabay

Sweden is envied around the world for its fair working conditions and effective welfare system.

But it’s not by accident that the Swedes enjoy such a good set up.

Dubbed the ‘Swedish Model’, the catch-all term describes several typically Swedish systems, including fundamental labour laws designed to protect workers’ rights.

Based on the division of responsibilities between the state and trade unions, the two work in tandem to guarantee good working conditions and fair treatment of everyone working in Sweden.

Find out more about how to get the most from your working life in Sweden

If you’re not already familiar with the system, it might seem like a fragmented jungle that you’ll never understand. That’s why The Local has teamed up with Saco, a politically-independent central organisation for 23 unions, as well as Akademikernas a-kassa, the income insurance organisation for university graduates, to shed some light on how the Swedish labour market works.


Everyone who works and pays taxes in Sweden is covered by the common unemployment insurance that can pay out a maximum of 365 kronor per day if they lose their job.

However, you also have the option to voluntarily join an arbetslöshetskassa (a-kassa for short). There are different a-kassa funds for different kinds of workers, the largest is Akademikernas a-kassa, an unemployment fund specifically for university graduates.

But why bother joining an a-kassa?

Well, you wouldn’t drive a car or go on vacation without insurance, so why would you work without protecting your income? And if you sign up to an a-kassa you can receive a lot more than 365 kronor.

For example, if you lose your job after being a member of Akademikernas a-kassa for a period of 12 months, you’re eligible to be considered for income-related benefits up to a maximum of 910 kronor a day.

What’s more, you can even claim if you decide to switch careers and take some time out to decide what to do next. It’s basically a safety net that protects you in case you find yourself either voluntarily or involuntarily out of work.

And, if you are a member of a Swedish union, there’s a good chance you could get yourself an extra income insurance included in your membership.

Here’s a handy calculator that helps you work out how much unemployment compensation you would get when you are a member of Akademikernas a-kassa.


The Swedes are firm believers in strength in numbers, as shown by the country’s long tradition of labour unions. In fact, Sweden is one of the world’s most unionised countries, with nearly 70 percent of the working population signed up to a union.

There are lots of different kinds of unions in Sweden. Name a profession, and it’s sure to have its own dedicated union. Check out this list of SACO’s unions to get a better idea.

The unions aren’t politically affiliated and there’s no requirement for you to join, but there are many perks to be enjoyed if you do.

For example, it’s a union’s role to back you up if you’re being discriminated against at work, or if your working conditions are unjust. Members also get complementary guidance and counselling when it comes to career choices, as well as free legal aid if and when needed.

Swedish trade unions are grouped into three larger umbrella organisations: blue-collar group The Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO); white-collar Confederation for Professional Employees (TCO); and the Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations (Saco).

The more members, the more power a union has. Which comes in handy when it’s time for them to do their most important task, which is to organise…

Collective Agreements

Around 90 percent of all employees in Sweden are covered by collective agreements. They’re an important part of the Swedish Model, put in place to regulate wages and other working conditions.

Maximise your working life in Sweden. Find out more.

Known in Swedish as kollektivavtal, the voluntary agreements are drawn up between unions and employers on behalf of employees to protect their rights. They cover some pretty important areas, such as pay increases, parental benefit, pensions, overtime, additional holiday days, and sickness pay.

When you first arrive in Sweden, it can be tempting to accept any job offer you get. But before you sign on the dotted line, it’s wise to ask if the company has a collective wage agreement first.

But does it really make that much of a difference?

‘Yes’, is the short answer.

For instance, if you’re employed in Sweden you’re entitled to receive sick pay from your employer on day 2 to 14 of your illness. If you’re unwell for longer than 14 days, your employer will submit a notification to  Försäkringskassan, the Swedish social insurance agency, which assesses your rights to sickness benefit.

Without a collective agreement, employees get 80 percent compensation, but only up to a salary of 28,000 kronor per month. This means sick pay is capped at 21,800 kronor regardless of what you earn.

With a collective agreement, however, you have the right to extra compensation, which varies but can be around 75-90 percent of your full salary. SACO has created the below calculator to help you work out just how much sick pay you would receive with a collective agreement compared to without.

And that’s just one example.

You can also work out how much additional parental benefit you would get with or without a collective agreement... well as how much you would get if you injure yourself at work.

Furthermore, collective agreements make saving for retirement easier by offering guaranteed pension contributions -- something that is likely to mean the difference of many hundreds of thousands of kronor over a working life.

Altogether -- as you may have realised -- being covered by a collective agreement can make a huge difference to both your life and your earnings.

Although it’s the unions’ task to negotiate the finer points, you don’t actually need to be a member of a union to benefit from a collective agreement. And to confuse matters even more, you don’t need to be a member of a union or work somewhere with a collective agreement to join an a-kassa.

Luckily, you're now an expert in how the system works so you can start getting the most out of your working life in Sweden!

This article was produced by The Local Client Studio and sponsored by Saco & Akademikernas a-kassa.



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