Sweden - Labor

The labor force numbered 4.4 million persons in 2000. In that year, approximately 74% of the workforce was in the service sector, with 24% engaged in industry, and the remaining 2% in agriculture. The unemployment rate in 2002 was 4%.

In 2002, about 80% of Swedish wage earners are members of trade unions, and within certain industrial branches the percentage is even higher. The first unions in Sweden were organized in the 1870s, but for a long time the movement remained numerically weak relative to the rest of industrialized Europe. At the end of 1992, however, the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, which is closely allied to the Social Democratic Party, had 2.23 million members and was thus the largest organization of any kind in Sweden. Other major groups include the Swedish Confederation of Salaried Employees and the Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations. The trade union movement is based on voluntary membership, and there is neither closed shop nor union shop. The Swedish Employers Confederation is the principal employer organization.

Agreements between employers and trade unions are generally worked out by negotiation. Public mediators or mediation commissions intervene if necessary. A labor court, made up of three impartial members and five representing employers, workers, and salaried employees, has jurisdiction over the application and interpretation of collective agreements already signed and may impose damages on employers, trade unions, or trade union members violating a contract. For many years, an overwhelming majority of the court's decisions have been unanimous, and since the end of the 1930s industrial peace has generally prevailed. In 1997, management and labor agreed to a new negotiating framework that has decreased strikes and increased wages. Swedish law requires employee representation on company boards of directors. A law passed in 1983 introduced employee funds, partly funded by contributions from profits of all Swedish companies, which give unions and employees equity in companies, while providing the companies with investment capital.

The legal minimum age for full-time employment is 16 years old. The regular workweek cannot exceed 40 hours, and overtime is limited to 48 hours over a four-week period and a total of 200 hours a year. However, these regulations may be modified by collective bargaining agreement. A minimum of five weeks of holiday with pay is stipulated by law. There is no national minimum wage: Wages are negotiated in collective bargaining agreements. Workers, even at the lowest end of the pay scale, are able to provide a decent standard of living for their families. Health and safety standards are very high and are stringently enforced.

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