Last Updated: Thursday, 18 January 2018, 16:17 GMT

The Global State of Workers' Rights - Sweden

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 31 August 2010
Cite as Freedom House, The Global State of Workers' Rights - Sweden, 31 August 2010, available at: [accessed 19 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


The right to form trade unions and the right to strike are safeguarded under Article 17 of the Swedish constitution. Wide-ranging powers were afforded to unions by the 1976 Co-determination at Work Act, including collective-bargaining rights and "joint-regulation" rights that allow union members to negotiate on managerial decisions. Unlike in many other European Union states, worker representation in Sweden functions through local unions, and the law requires that employers negotiate with unions in the workplace before making major decisions about working conditions. The right to join unions is extended to both the public and private sectors. The Medlingsinstitutet (National Mediation Office) was created in 2000 to oversee collective agreements.

There are three main trade unions in Sweden. The largest is the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO), with approximately 1.8 million members, followed by the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (TCO) with 1.3 million members and the Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations (SACO) with 590,000 members. There is little competition between unions, though some competition exists between the TCO and SACO because many employees in the sectors they cover can choose either confederation. Approximately 71 percent of Swedish workers belong to a union, down from a peak of 86 percent in 1995. A noticeable drop in membership occurred after the government increased mandatory contributions to unemployment-insurance funds in 2006.

The government generally does not interfere in union activity or strikes. The LO has close ties to the Social Democratic Party, which has caused some tension with the government since a center-right coalition took power in 2006. The government can fine unions for going on strike after an agreement has been reached or before an agreement expires. Although several strikes occurred in 2009, including actions by trash workers and alcohol distributors, they did not draw any fines or government interference. Since 2003, the International Labour Organization has requested that the Swedish government amend legislation that prohibits early retirement schemes. No other labor complaints have been filed by international organizations in recent years.

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