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SWEDISH HABITS

Why it’s best in Sweden to take your holidays when everyone else does

People in Sweden enjoy generous holidays, but to make the most of them you should try to make sure you take yours at the same time as everyone else, as Richard Orange wrote in the 2020 spring holidays.

Why it's best in Sweden to take your holidays when everyone else does
A family in a ski-lift during sportlov in 2009. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/SCANPIX
Last week was sportlov, the short winter break when schoolchildren across Sweden take to the slopes.
 
As a freelancer, I’d decided I needed to stay working to bring in some cash. It wasn’t long before I regretted it.
 
Everyone I rang was away, while Facebook and Instagram filled with happy faces on ski lifts. Even my own wife and children, who were up in Uppsala to visit her parents, managed to spend a day at the Kungsberget ski resort. 

 
Children enjoy a skate in Stockhom’s Kungsträdgård during sportlov 2013. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
 
It’s a mistake I’ve made time and time again in the nearly nine years I’ve been living in Sweden. I take jobs covering for others during the peak summer months, and then find myself struggling to find anyone to hang out with when I’m off myself in late August and September. 
 
In some ways, I feel, Sweden still functions like a single giant factory, shutting down en masse at set times. The core summer weeks are even still known as the industrisemester, or industry holiday. 
 
And woe betides anyone who hopes to do any work involving collaborating with others during the summer peak. For a freelancer, this is difficult, as it means your income tends to collapse over the summer even if you, yourself, carry on working. 
 
If you stay in the city, you may be surprised to find some of your favourite cafés simply shut up shop for several weeks, leaving laptop warriors bereft of their favourite workspaces. 

 
RECOMMENDED: 
If you have children, it’s a good idea to take sportlov and its autumn equivalent, höstlov, off, thereby saving your children the sense of abandonment they will otherwise feel being among the unloved ones left in the care of their school’s skeleton after-school activities team.
 
A family boiling sausages while out hiking. Photo: Henrik Holmberg/TT
 
But it’s the summer holiday which it is most important to synchronise with the rest of society. You should be off for at least three weeks, and preferably for an entire month from mid-July to mid-August. 
 
For politicians, the Almedalen festival on Gotland, in early July, marks the end of play, with political life then only really kicking back into gear again in the week running up to the opening of parliament at the start of September. 
 
Most other Swedes start a week or two later and end several weeks earlier. A 2017 survey by the polling firm Sifo found that a full half of Swedes took their holidays between July 17th and August 6th.  

 
A couple returning from their holidays back in 1939. Photo: Gunnar Lundh/Wikimedia Commons
 
When the law requiring firms to offer summer holidays was first brought in back in 1938, employees had the right to two weeks off. Now most employees in Sweden can take four consecutive weeks off in the summer and many take five. 
 
They can afford to, given the country’s generous 25 days of annual statutory leave a year, which unlike in the UK, doesn’t count public holidays or ‘red days’.  
You should ideally stay in Sweden for at least two of the weeks you take off, ideally near a lake, an island, or the coast, so you can experience the country at its best. 
 
While sportlov should be action-packed, the summer break should be gentle, unstructured, and low-key, with each day involving little more energetic activities than a trip to the beach, a swim in a lake or between some islands, an outing to a country loppis, summer café or a country museum. 

 
A summer loppis in Österåker, Södermansland. Photo: Mats Schagerström/TT
 
Children should be supervised as little as possible, and left to go a bit wild, staying up way past their normal bedtimes and given access to more ice cream than is good for them. 
 
If your family owns a summer house, the time tends to be broken up with a gentle stream of visitors, who stay for a day or two of barbecues and fireside chats before moving on. 
 
If you don’t, then you should spend at least a week on a road trip visiting those who do, popping in on family and friends wherever they happen to be.  
 
In the popular holiday area of Österlen in southeastern Skåne enough of our Malmö friends and acquaintances now have houses that there’s a sort of alternative summer social scene building up.
 
The same would doubtless be true for Stockholmers of the Stockholm archipelago, Norrtälje, or Dalarna, or to Gothenburgers of Lysekil or Orust. 
 
But wherever my friends are, after last week’s lonely sportlov, I am now resolved that this summer I too will try and experience the Swedish industrisemester, even though as a freelancer it will come frustratingly unpaid. 

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For members

WORKING IN SWEDEN

EXPLAINED: Can you negotiate a pay rise in Sweden to offset inflation?

With Sweden's central bank expecting inflation of nearly 8% this year, everyone working in the country is in line for a real-terms pay cut. We asked Gunilla Krieg, central ombudsman at the Unionen union, what scope there is to negotiate a salary hike to compensate.

EXPLAINED: Can you negotiate a pay rise in Sweden to offset inflation?

With Sweden’s central bank expecting inflation of nearly 8% this year, everyone working in the country is in line for a real-terms pay cut. We asked Gunilla Krieg, central ombudsman at the Unionen union, what scope there is to negotiate a salary hike to compensate.

How soon can I get a pay rise to compensate for high inflation? 

Probably not for a while. 

About 90 percent of workers in Sweden are covered by the collective bargaining agreements made between employers and the country’s trade unions. The last round of salary deals was negotiated at the union-employer level back in 2020, and most of them will remain valid until March or April next year.

This means that most employees in Sweden will not see their salaries adjusted to take inflation into account for at least nine months. 

“Under this special model that we have, we already have a level for the wage increases for this year, so you can’t get compensation for the inflation right now,” Krieg explained. 

You might be able negotiate a pay rise in addition to what the unions have agreed in your personal salary review, she added. 

“Of course, you have that freedom. Whether you work in a small company, or a big company, a company that has a collective agreement, or one that doesn’t, you always have the freedom to ask for a salary rise,” Krieg said. 

The only issue is that most unionised companies only offer personal salary reviews once a year, and for the majority of employees, the window of opportunity passed in the spring. 

“You have to find out when you have a salary review as part of the collective agreement you have at your own workplace,” Krieg recommended. “For most collective agreements, that is in the spring, although some collective agreements have it in the autumn.” 

What if I’m not part of a union? 

If you are among the 10% of workers not covered by a collective bargaining agreement, you can ask for a pay rise whenever you like, but unlike union members, you have no right to a pay rise. The decision is wholly up to your employer. 

Gunilla Krief is the central ombudsman for the Unionen union. Photo: Patrik Nygren/Unionen

So will the unions eventually negotiate above-inflation pay increases? 

Probably not. 

Unions in Sweden have historically been quite responsible, and understood the risk of creating a wage-price spiral by demanding wage increases that match or exceed inflation.

“Twenty-five years ago, we had a really high wage increases in Sweden, and we had very, very big inflation, so people got more money in their wallets, but they couldn’t buy anything, because inflation went up much higher than wages,” Krieg explained, putting the union perspective.

“We always take responsibility for the entire labour market, and that’s good in the long term,” she added. “There’s been much more money in the wallet for employees in Sweden over the past 25 years. That’s why we think we should we should not panic because of inflation. It may be that for one year it will mean less money in the wallet, but in the long run we benefit.” 

Can I argue for an inflation-busting pay rise in my salary review? 

You can certainly argue for a pay rise of 8 percent, or even more, but you don’t cite inflation as a reason for it. 

“Everything is individual, so you can, of course, negotiate up your salary, and there is no limit to how much you can ask for,” Krieg explained.

“If you have a job or an education for which there’s a shortage on the Swedish market, then you can get a much higher wage increase. Up in the north of Sweden, where we have [the battery manufacturer] Northvolt, and we have mines and the steel industry, they are looking for a lot of competence right now, and there you can have a much higher rise in wages.” 

But, particularly if you’re covered by collective bargaining, you can’t really cite inflation as justification, as that is one of the factors that unions and employers are supposed to factor in during their negotiations. 

What’s the best way of getting a big pay rise? 

The best way to get a pay hike of as much as 5,000 kronor or 10,000 kronor a month, Krieg suggests, is to apply for other jobs, even if you don’t end up taking them. 

“You can get offers from other companies, and then you can tell your employer that ‘I really liked it here, I enjoy this work, and I want to stay here, but now they are offering me 10,000 kronor more at another company, and if you can raise my salary like that,  of course I will stay here’,” she said.

In a normal salary interview, she adds, it’s important to be able to demonstrate your results. Look again at your job description, and what your goals are for the year, and identify concrete achievements that meet or exceed these goals. If you have any additional duties, you can cite them to argue for a higher salary. If you’ve done any courses, or learned any skills, you can cite these. 

At any time in the year, if your superiors praise any work you have done, keep those emails, or write it down, so that in your salary review, you can say, “you said that this report I did was ‘the best you’ve ever seen’,” or such like. 

Finally, you should find out in advance if there are any salary criteria being applied, so that you can argue that you exceed them, and so demand a higher raise than that agreed for the company as a whole with the union. 

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