Photo: Melker Dahlstrand / imagebank.sweden.se

Workers’ rights and unions

Sweden takes workers’ rights seriously. Sweden’s long tradition of labour market regulation has resulted in many employee benefits having been written into law. Collective bargaining and co-operation between employers, employees and unions play a central role.

Collective agreements

Most Swedish workplaces are part of a collective agreement between unions and employers that regulates wages and working conditions, including health and accident insurance. Collective agreements guarantee that the same rules apply to everyone and establish the minimum acceptable terms of employment in that sector – though many employers offer better terms.

Supporting and managing collective bargaining is one of the main roles of trade and labour unions. However, if a collective agreement is in place at your workplace, you are covered by it even if you are not a member of the union. If there is no collective agreement in place, you can contact your union for assistance with questions related to your terms of employment.

The terms of collective agreements vary between sectors, so always contact your employer or union to find out more about your employment terms.

Read more:

Swedish Trade Union Federation: Collective agreements

Anti-discrimination laws

Swedish law forbids discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation or functional disabilities. This applies to all employers, employees and job applicants, regardless of whether or not the discrimination is intentional. On a daily basis, this means that people expect to be treated with respect, regardless of their beliefs or appearance.

In serious cases, workplace discrimination might involve direct harassment or unfair treatment in terms of wages, employment conditions, or promotion opportunities. If someone is accused of discrimination, the employer is responsible for investigating the situation and taking appropriate measures. If a law has been broken, an employer may then be required to pay damages. As a further protection of equality rights, employees may not be punished for filing a report of discrimination.

The Equality Ombudsman (Diskrimineringsombudsmannen, DO) is a central authority for anti-discrimination regulations.

Work environment regulations

Swedish employers, employees and equipment suppliers share responsibility for maintaining a safe working environment. These regulations are outlined in the Work Environment Act, including measures to restrict workplace hazards, prevent accidents and otherwise protect the physical and mental health of employees.

The employer has the main responsibility for planning and controlling efforts to improve the work environment, while employees are required to follow safety instructions and use available protective equipment.

Legally, the Swedish Work Environment Authority and regional Labour Inspectorates ensure that the Act’s requirements are followed. However, because most Swedish workplaces are relatively open and non-hierarchical, health and safety issues are often discussed and resolved informally among workers and employers.

Labour laws

Job security and stability are highly valued in Sweden. For this reason, a number of labour laws exist in order to protect employment rights, and to ensure that employees are not dismissed without proper notice. In most cases, both employees and their unions must be notified in advance about any circumstances that might affect their employment.

Labour laws also protect the rights of union members and representatives at workplaces.

Swedish unions

Nearly 70 per cent of Swedish workers belong to a union, making Sweden one of the most unionised countries in the world. For these millions of members, unions provide special insurance policies, coaching and representation for contract negotiations, and legal support. From considering a contract to losing a job and becoming unemployed, unions can strengthen your bargaining position throughout your career through their legal expertise and negotiation privileges.

Unions help workers achieve fair and reasonable wages, ensure equal treatment, provide added pension and unemployment insurance, and generally promote other social issues. Official agreements made in these areas apply to all, even non-members.

Find a union

Swedish unions are organised into larger trade union confederations. Through the three confederations below, you can find your relevant union.

The Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO)

The Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations (SACO)

The Swedish Confederation of Employees (TCO)