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’.

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…


…as 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.

For members


How to make the most of Sweden’s public holidays in 2019

Swedish companies offer generous holiday allowances, and with a range of secret tricks you can make them stretch even further. Here's how to make the most of Sweden's public holidays in 2019.

How to make the most of Sweden's public holidays in 2019
Taking just five days of annual leave can get you a 17-day holiday in 2019. Photo: Gustav Sjöholm

This article is available to Members of The Local. Read more Membership Exclusives here.

If you're working in Sweden, you're already one of the luckiest employees on the planet when it comes to annual leave, even before factoring public holidays into the equation.

By law, firms have to give full-time staff 25 days off, and many offer extra days and benefits on top of this. For example, most employees have the right to take at least four consecutive weeks off in June-August if they choose, and you'll find that Sweden's larger cities empty out in those months.

But on top of those paid vacation days, there are several so-called 'red days' (röda dagar) in the Nordic nation. Plenty of workers schedule their breaks away around these public holidays and by doing so you can get long stretches of time off by only using a few of your precious vacation days. Keep reading to learn the tricks to make the most of this, and the other factors to be aware of.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about annual leave in Sweden

1. Check your company's approach to annual leave around public holidays

Some firms offer de facto bonus half days ahead of public breaks, while others ask staff to take annual leave in the days before or afterwards, in order to synchronize company work schedules.

The dates in between public holidays are known as klämdagar which means 'squeezed days', for example a Monday which falls between a weekend and a public holiday the next Tuesday. Some employers offer these as extra vacation days, and for those that don't, they are popular days to take off, meaning some businesses offer a 'first-come-first-served' policy for these sought-after days.

That means planning ahead if you want to take time off then, but consider whether you might actually want a few quiet days in the office while your boss stays at their summer house after a national holiday, perhaps saving your own annual leave for dark November or frozen February.

If you do shift work or are a member of a union, you're likely to get extra pay for working public holidays. If red days take place over a weekend, some firms – but far from all – offer an alternative weekday off instead.

If you're not sure what your company's policy is, don't be afraid of discussing holidays with your employer. Sweden's approach to work-life balance means they are more likely to think less of you if you don't plan any time off.

Photo: Christian Ferm/Folio/

2. Book early if you want to travel during 'red day' periods

Swedes love to plan, so if you're thinking about travelling around Sweden over Midsummer or enjoying an Easter getaway, now is the time to start organizing. Hotels, flights and even trains and popular restaurants can get booked up months in advance, with prices rising as the holidays get closer. If you have family abroad, it could be more expensive to return home to visit them, or for them to visit you.

3. Beware of restaurant and attraction closures

In many countries public holidays can often be a chance for tourist attractions to cash in on extra visitors, but Swedes often consider their time off to be sacred. 

If a particular museum, restaurant or attraction is a major appeal of a destination, check in advance that it will actually be open to avoid disappointment on the day.

Photo: Lina Roos/

4. Be prepared for your Swedish friends to leave town

Public holidays are a classic time for Swedes to leave the country's big cities and head to their parents' places or second homes in the countryside, so they can be a lonely time for foreign workers. Start dropping hints early if you're hoping for an invitation to a Swedish summer house this Midsummer, or check online social forums to connect with other internationals who are in the same boat.

5. Check school term dates

It's obvious that if you've got school-age children, you'll need to know when their term starts and finishes — be aware that these dates differ in different parts of the country. But even for workers without children, it pays to check when the summer holiday is, as well as the spring break (sportslov) and autumn break (höstlov or läslov).

Traffic is often very busy at the start and end of these periods as families escape from the cities, and hotel prices can also rise due to the spike in demand. In particular, if you want a winter skiing break, you're likely to save money (and have a more peaceful holiday) by avoiding the time in February when ski resorts are packed with families enjoying the winter sports break. You'll find a comprehensive list of the dates on the SkolPorten website.

Keep reading below for a list of Sweden's public holidays in 2019.

Photo: Per Pixel Petersson/

National public holidays in Sweden in 2019


Tuesday January 1st – New Year's Day – Public holiday

It's a good start to the year, because New Year's Day falls on a Tuesday, and many employers offer December 31st as a day off making this a four-day weekend. Unfortunately that means Epiphany, January 6th, falls on a Sunday, so 9-5 workers miss out on that extra red day.


Friday April 19th – Good Friday – Public holiday

Monday April 22nd – Easter Monday – Public holiday

It's a long wait until the next set of public holidays, but 2019's late Easter means there's a better chance the weather will have improved if you want to use the long weekend to explore Sweden. 


Wednesday May 1st – Public holiday

Thursday May 30th – Ascension Day – Public holiday

Walpurgis Eve on April 30th is often a de facto half-day (but check with your employer first). In 2018 it falls on a Tuesday, so by asking for the 29th off plus a full or half-day on the 30th depending on your company's policy, you can get a five-day stretch off work.

There's another chance at a long weekend later in May if you get the Friday after Ascension Day off. But it's a popular klämdag, so make sure you get there before your colleagues.


Thursday June 6th – National Day – Public holiday

Friday June 21st – Midsummer's Eve. This isn't technically a public holiday, but because the day is such an integral part of Swedish summer traditions, most employers will give you the day off anyway. If they do, there's a chance they'll also treat you to a half-day off on the Thursday.

And if you take the Friday after National Day off, that's two long weekends in one month.


Friday November 1st – All Saints' Eve. Not a public holiday, but because it falls the day before All Saints' Day, which is a public holiday, there's a chance you'll get half the day off. But ask your employer first.


Tuesday December 24th – Christmas Eve

Wednesday December 25th – Christmas Day – Public holiday

Thursday December 26th – Boxing Day – Public holiday

Tuesday December 31st – New Year's Eve

Wednesday January 1st, 2020 – New Year's Day – Public holiday

Just like Midsummer's Eve, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve are not technically public holidays, but they are almost always treated as such anyway.

This year the Christmas holidays are positioned so that all fall on weekdays. This means that if you also take off the 23rd, 27th, and 30th (or if your employer offers any or all of these as klämdagar), you'll get 12 consecutive days of holiday. Take off the 2nd and 3rd as well and you'll get a 17-day stretch for the price of only five days' annual leave. Perfect if you want to travel overseas to visit family or enjoy some winter sun.