The Swedish labour market

Last updated: 20 9 2018

Image Boken om Sverige
This material is from the book About Sweden.

The labour market can be divided up into the private sector and the public sector.

 The private sector contains businesses with private owners that are motivated by profit. These business take many different forms, for example small shops, manufacturing industries, construction, law and finance, transport and restaurants. About 70 per cent of all employees work in the private sector.

The public sector is owned by the State, municipalities and county councils. Many people who work in the public sector are involved in healthcare, education, the police, social care, preschools, environmental protection, waste management, water and sewerage and fire and rescue services.

Understaffed professions – there are jobs here

The professions where it is believed there will be a lack of staff in the future are called understaffed professions.

In order to work in these professions, you usually need to have a vocational education at upper-secondary level or higher education. Higher education is studies after upper-secondary school, often at university or university college.

Education is important for finding a job in Sweden, and the longer you have studied, the more job opportunities will usually be available to you. Many employers require job applicants to have completed upper secondary education, i.e. to have an upper secondary school diploma. You also have to have completed upper secondary school in order to apply to higher education programmes.

Below you can see in which professions Arbetsförmedlingen expects there to be a shortage of labour in the near future (source: Arbetsförmedlingen).

Professions requiring higher education qualifications in which the shortage of applicants is greatest (so jobs are easier to get) in 2017

  • Engineers and technicians in mining engineering and metallurgy
  • Doctors
  • Software and systems developers
  • Social worker / Social welfare officer
  • Support assessor
  • Nurses in psychiatric care, emergency medical care, geriatrics, pediatrics and radiology, as well as operating room nurses and district nurses
  • Special educators
  • Civil engineers, construction and installation, electronics and telecom
  • Construction engineers and construction technicians
  • IT architects
  • Heating, ventilation and sanitation engineers
  • Preschool teachers
  • Teachers (7th-9th years)

Professions with other qualification requirements in which the shortage of applicants is greatest (so jobs are easier to get) in 2017

  • Cooks
  • Bricklayers
  • Assistant nurses
  • Construction sheet metal workers
  • Sheet metal working
  • Car and truck mechanics
  • Truck drivers
  • Insulation installers
  • Floor-layers
  • Installation electricians
  • Heating, ventilation and sanitation installers
  • Roof layer
  • Concrete workers
  • Woodworker/carpenter
  • Painter
  • Tool makers
  • Construction workers
  • Tiler
  • Control systems technicians
  • Medical secretaries

Where will the jobs be in the future?

Arbetsförmedlingen's forecasts also indicate that there will be a shortage of labour in certain professions in five to ten years' time. This shortage is partly compensated for by people moving to Sweden. Below is a list of professions and groups of professions where staff will be needed in five to ten years.

Professions and groups of professions with a large shortage of labour in five to ten years' time

  • IT professions
  • Preschool teachers and recreation instructors
  • Compulsory school teachers
  • Upper secondary school teachers
  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Special educators
  • Dentists
  • Dental nurses
  • Assistant nurses
  • Engineering professions
  • Car and truck mechanics
  • Machinery repair
  • Bus drivers
  • Train drivers
  • CNC operators
  • Cooks
  • A number of construction professions

Source: Arbetsförmedlingen

Photo: Johnér

Gender equality in the labour market

Gender equality means that women and men have the same rights, obligations and opportunities within all important areas of life. The Government has set targets for increasing gender equality in Sweden (read more about this in Chapter 4). When a society makes the best of both men's and women's skills and creativity, this contributes to greater justice and economic growth, among other things.

Sweden is, in many ways, a country where there is gender equality. About 80 per cent of all women in Sweden aged 20 to 64 work outside of the home, which is a high proportion compared to many other countries. However, there are is a lack of gender equality in the labour market. Women who work in the same professions as men usually have lower wages, despite doing the same job as men. There are fewer women than men in the senior management of companies. Research also shows that there are differences between the opportunities men and women have to combine work with family life. Women do the majority of housework, even if they work just as much as men. More women than men take parental leave for longer periods.

The Government is working to increase gender equality in several areas. One goal, for example, is for women and men not to have to choose their professions based on their sex but on their aptitude, skills and interest. The labour market in Sweden is still divided, with more women working in nursing and care, for example, and more men working in the engineering and construction industry. There are also more men than women who start their own businesses and are managers in a workplace.

The image shows the gender distribution in the thirty most common professions in Sweden. Only three of the 30 largest professions have an equal gender distribution, i.e. 40–60 per cent of each sex. Source: Statistics Sweden

Social codes in the labour market

There are certain social codes that may be regarded as typical of the Swedish labour market.

It is very common for workplaces to be organised horizontally rather than vertically (or hierarchically). This means that the manager and employees decide many things jointly. This method of decision-making can take longer than the traditional top-down method, but it often engenders an increased sense of participation and responsibility. Employees may be expected to assume responsibilities at work.

The atmosphere at many workplaces is often informal. This can involve how you address one another and what you wear. It is common to dress casually at work.

Time is an important matter in many Swedish workplaces. It is important to arrive on time.

An important element of the working day in many workplaces is the coffee break, when everybody meets, talks and drinks coffee or tea.

Employers and employees

The labour market has two sides: employers and employees.
There are unions/organisations for both employees and employers. These are unions/organisation where employers and employees cooperate and work for their own interests in the labour market. All those who are members of the union or organisation can get involved and have an influence.
Employers' organisations represent the interests of employers.
The largest employers' organisations are:

  • The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise for private businesses
  • SAGE (the Swedish Agency for Government Employers) andSALAR (Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions) for public sector workplaces

Unions represent the interests of employees.

The largest unions are:

  • LO (The Swedish Trade Union Confederation)
  • TCO (The Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees)
  • SACO (The Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations)

The national union confederations consist of several smaller trade unions that represent different professions and industries.

There have been trade unions in Sweden since the 1880s and many employees choose to be members. Joining a union is voluntary. Those who are members of a trade union pay a membership fee. It is common to be both a member of a trade union and of an unemployment insurance fund, called A-kassa in Swedish. An unemployment insurance fund is an economic association that provides money to its members if they become unemployed. There are many different unemployment insurance funds and the unemployment insurance fund is often linked to the union you are a member of.

Unions and employers' organisations meet regularly and negotiate about what rules should apply to the labour market. These negotiations deal with matters such a wages and other rights and obligations in the workplace. The right to negotiate is laid down in the Co-determination in the Workplace Act (MBL).

There are various laws and agreements that regulate the Swedish labour market. Photo: Johnér

​Labour law

There are many laws and agreements that apply to work in Sweden. These laws and regulations that apply to the relationship between employers and employees are collectively known as labour law.

The Co-determination in the Workplace Act (MBL)

The Co-determination in the Workplace Act (MBL) is an important law in the field of labour law. The Act sets out rules concerning the right to organise unions in the workplace. The Act also says that the employer must inform their employees of important matters that apply to the workplace. The employer must also negotiate with the union before they decide to make any changes to the workplace.

The Employment Protection Act (LAS)

The Employment Protection Act (LAS) protects employees in the event of redundancies.

The Act applies primarily to employees with permanent employment. The Act states that a person's employment cannot be terminated unless there are good reasons to do so. Good reasons may be that there is no work or that an employee is not doing their job.

The Employment Protection Act also contains rules about which employees are to be made redundant first when there is a lack of work. This is called the order of precedence rule. The main rule is that the employees who have been employed for the shortest time are made redundant before those who have been employed longer.

Collective agreements

A collective agreement is a written agreement between an employer and a trade union. A collective agreement contains rules about such matters as working hours, holidays and wages. Your wage is often governed by a collective agreement.

Collective agreements often contain rules about:

  • forms of employment
  • overtime
  • wages and remuneration
  • working hours
  • time off
  • termination
  • pensions and personal accident insurance.

A collective agreement sets how low the lowest wage will be for the employees. The agreement also applies to employees who are not in a union, but who work at a workplace that has a collective agreement. There is no law in Sweden about how low the lowest wage may be.

Even if your employer has a collective agreement, there is the potential to negotiate or discus your wage with your employer. You can obtain a different wage depending on how difficult your job is and how well you deal with your duties. The majority of large organisations and businesses have collective agreements with a trade union, but there are also employers who do not have a collective agreement.

Conflicts in the workplace

A conflict or disagreement at a workplace has to be resolved as quickly as possible. It is the employer's, the manager's, responsibility to ensure that conflicts are resolved. If you become involved in a conflict, you have to talk to your manager (employer). If you are involved in a conflict with your manager and are a member of a trade union, you can get support from your union. When the employer becomes involved in a conflict with an employee and cannot come to an agreement about a workplace issue, they can contact the Labour Court. The Labour Court can investigate the conflict and provide an answer to the question of who is in the right.