Salary, benefits and social security – that’s how it works in Sweden

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As someone new to Sweden, it is not obvious how everything works with salary, pensions and uemployment benefit. Ombudsman Friedrich Heger knows this from his own experience. The role of trade unions, the importance of collective agreements and personal responsibility – the differences can be big, depending on where you come from.

The Swedish labour market model, the role of collective agreements and the importance of being part of the union. There is a lot of new things to get to grips with when you come to Sweden to work.

– Regardless of where you come from, it is valuable to gain an understanding of how the system works in Sweden. Many people have the image of Sweden as a large welfare society, but in order to benefit from the fine system we have in Sweden, there are things you have to take responsibility for yourself, says Friedrich Heger, labour law specialist at Engineers of Sweden.

Friedrich Heger, labour law specialist at Engineers of Sweden.

Collective agreements supplement the law

It is now 15 years since he himself came to Sweden and he knows that there is a lot to learn for a foreigner.

Through the lecture Working in Sweden, he wants to give a basic picture of how it works in Sweden with collective agreements, security systems and the importance of joining both unions and undemployment benefit fund (Sw. A-kassa).

– The collective agreements supplement the basic legislation, it is important to understand that it is the norm in the Swedish labor market. Without a collective agreement, you have, for example, no right to a salary review or occupational pension, he explains.

In the lecture, he goes through the Swedish model, how it works with different forms of employment, social benefits such as parental benefit, pensions contributions and unemployment compensation, as well as the union – what it is and means for the individual.

– If, for example, you become unemployed, you will receive a maximum of SEK 11,200 before tax in basic unemployment benefit if you are not part of the unemployment benefit fund. This doesn’t even pay the rent. If, on the other hand, you are part of both A-kassa and a trade union with income insurance, you can receive 80 percent of your previous salary. There is a very big difference, he points out.

No political connection

The image you have of the union and the meaning of being a member of a union can be very different depending on where in the world you come from.

In some countries trade union have clear or outspoken political ties, in other cases the union is closely linked with the employer. In some countries, you can count on being fired if you get involved in a union, sometimes joining a union can even be associated with danger to life.

– In many countries, it is also not common for academics to be part of the union, it is something that suprises many engineers.

The role of trade unions in Sweden

• Saco associations are politically independent

• Membership in a trade union is voluntary. No one can force you to join.

• The possibility of membership in a trade union is independent of your type of employment, work permit or nationality.

• Local representation at your workplace means that there are people who negotiate with the employer on your behalf. If you have problems at your workplace and are a member of the union, you can get support and help from them.

• Membership of the AEA does not equal membership in a trade union

Make sure to take your own responsibility

Friedrich Heger says that he is often invited to larger companies to give the lecture Working in Sweden, which can also be viewed on the web. And it is not only those who are new to Sweden who appreciate it. Sometimes even HR representatives sneak in to listen and get inspiration from the lecture.

– Those who come and listen are incredibly happy and grateful for the information, and there are often good discussions and questions afterwards. Many also stay and share how it works in the countries they themselves come from. You feel like a global citizen, he says.

Something that Friedrich Heger himself thinks is important to be aware of is the understanding that one must take personal responsibility in order to take part in the safety net that exists in Sweden. And that the union and the A-kassa are two different things.

– It is not easy to be a foreigner in Sweden, to understand how the system works and what everyone has to do for it to work. I usually encourage those who listen to share, tip a friend or colleague so they don’t miss out on that part of the security system, says Friedrich Heger.

Curious about more

More information and tips on what might be useful to know when starting a working life in Sweden can be found on Engineers of Sweden’s website. See the lecture Working in Sweden here.

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