Swedish income insurance: how does it work and do you need it?

You may have arrived in Sweden with a fair idea of its strong social support systems. But what do you know about its a-kassas?

Swedish income insurance: how does it work and do you need it?
Photos: Anna Wright, Akademikernas a-kassa/Getty Images

A-kassas (short for arbetslöshetskassa) are unemployment funds that pay income-related insurance benefits. It's a topic well worth taking the time to understand amid the coronavirus pandemic – especially with more generous temporary rules currently in place (more on this below).

We invited readers of The Local to send in questions for Anna Wright, of Akademikernas a-kassa, Sweden’s biggest income insurance provider for university graduates. Here, she explains the key things you need to know and responds to questions you sent us on Facebook and via email. 

Find out more about securing your income by joining Akademikernas a-kassa

Q: What’s the difference between an a-kassa and a union (fackförening or just ‘fack’ in Swedish)? Can you join an a-kassa even if you’re not a member of a union?

Anna Wright: It’s not a requirement to be a member of both a union and unemployment insurance fund (a-kassa), but we always recommend you join both. Here’s the difference:

  • You can get money from an a-kassa if you become unemployed.

  • From a union, you can get negotiating help, salary statistics, advice on employment law, a review of your CV or LinkedIn profile and more.

If you’re a member of both, you can also get income insurance that covers up to 80 percent of your entire salary if you lose your job. The benefit from the income insurance is paid by the trade union – but it’s always based on our decision on unemployment benefit (which we pay). 

Q: Is it mandatory to be a member of a union and an a-kassa to be able to get 80% of your salary in case of unemployment?

AW: It depends on how much you earn. In 2020, you can receive up to 80 percent of 33,000 Swedish kronor from the unemployment insurance fund. We always recommend that you join a union for the reasons above.

Q: What do I need to know about the temporary rules on unemployment benefit introduced in 2020 due to coronavirus?

AW: A number of temporary changes were agreed by the Swedish Government and supporting parties earlier this year in response to the economic impact of the pandemic. The key changes are: 

  • Increased maximum benefit: the highest benefit level is 80 percent of your income up to 33,000 kronor per month and the maximum benefit per day is now 1,200 kronor before tax for the first 100 days of unemployment.

  • No waiting period: unemployment benefit will be paid out from the first day of unemployment, rather than after a six-day waiting period.

  • Shortened membership requirement: you could qualify for up to 80 percent of your salary after being a member for just three months from March to December 2020 (compared with 12 months if you applied before April 13th 2020)

These rules are due to expire after January 3rd 2021. A potential extension to the higher compensation levels beyond this date is being discussed. But the rest will go back to 'normal' with the qualifying period reintroduced, meaning you will then need to have been a member for 12 months to receive compensation based on your salary. You can find full details here

Q: I’m self-employed. Why join an akassa?

AW: Many university graduates choose to go their own way and start a business. But there's always a risk that your company will not be profitable. If you then end up needing to claim unemployment insurance, what you receive will be based on your higher earnings – whether that was as an employee or as an entrepreneur. This applies so long as you become unemployed within 24 months of finishing as an employee – otherwise, we will base the benefits on the period in which you had your own business.In Sweden, it's actually almost 50 years since the self-employed were given the right to join an a-kassa! 

Secure your income now by joining Akademikernas a-kassa

Q: Can I become a member although I’m not working and I’m new to Sweden?

AW: You can join an a-kassa as soon as you start to work and pay tax in Sweden.

Photo: Getty Images

Q: Why is Akademikernas a-kassa’s fee changing to 140 kronor per month in October?

AW: The fee was adjusted to reflect the higher costs associated with offering a more generous daily allowance. This allowance was increased from 910 kronor to 1,200 kronor in March to mitigate the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic for individuals and society. Benefits from a-kassas are financed by membership fees and employer contributions. And when 75 percent of our unemployed members get higher daily allowances, we need to contribute more to the government cost. 

We've had an exceptional year, with 40 percent more applications for benefits. We've also had around 50,000 new members join us and we've still been able to maintain our processing times for applications to join. 

Q: I live in Sweden and pay Swedish income tax but commute to London, where I start and end my flights as cabin crew for an airline. I’ll be furloughed in October and I’m wondering if I’m eligible to pay into an a-kassa?

AW: First of all, do you have a Swedish work permit – that is, are you able to work for a Swedish employer? Second, is your employer paying Swedish social security costs (arbetsgivaravgifter)? If the answer to both these questions is ‘yes’ you should be able to join a Swedish a-kassa and get unemployment benefits if your employment ends, provided you fulfil the normal requirements.

Q: Finally, one Facebook comment encouraged people to save money themselves instead of joining an a-kassa, which the reader claimed may not pay out when needed. Another reader quickly disagreed! So, what does the expert say? 

AW: We’re sorry you feel that way about the a-kassa system in Sweden. All the a-kassas have the same rules and if you fulfill the requirements you will get your benefits. If you become unemployed you can get up to 26,400 kronor before tax per month – and you’d have to save your membership fees for quite some time to get that amount of money.

Whether you're employed or an entrepreneur, find out more about protecting your income by joining Akademikernas a-kassa as a university graduate 



For members


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.