Last Updated: Monday, 22 January 2018, 12:53 GMT

2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Sweden

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Sweden, 6 June 2012, available at: [accessed 22 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.

Population: 9,380,000
Capital: Stockholm

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Murders: none reported
Attempted Murders: none reported
Threats: none reported
Injuries: none reported
Arrests: none reported
Imprisonments: none reported
Dismissals: none reported

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


Although trade union rights are protected by law, the decision of the Swedish labour court as well as the legislative implementation of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision on the Laval case have an impact on the right to take industrial action and consequences for the conclusion of collective agreements.


Sweden's economy after the global financial crisis in 2011 was relatively strong compared to many other European countries. GDP is estimated to have grown by 4.5% in 2011. In November 2011, 6.7% of the population was unemployed. The level of youth unemployment was very high, nearly 21%, which was higher than the EU average. The centre-right government, which has been in power since 2006, was re-elected in September 2010. Since coming into power, the government has introduced significant tax reductions for the part of the population in employment, increased the fees for unemployment benefit insurance coverage, and introduced several restrictions in the sickness compensation. It should be noted that, as regards the unemployment benefit insurance, only 40% of the unemployed are entitled to compensation. As a result, the gap between Sweden's wealthiest and poorest citizens has increased.

Trade union rights in law

Both the Constitution and the 1976 Co-Determination Act entitle both public sector workers, including the armed forces and the police, and private sector workers to form and join independent unions of their choice, without prior authorisation or excessive requirements. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. There is no registration requirement or minimum membership. There are no legal barriers preventing workers, including foreign workers, from joining a union. The Employment Protection Act (LAS) also protects workers, including union members, against unfair dismissal.

The 1976 Co-Determination Act provides for collective bargaining. The law prohibits anti-union discrimination. The Labour Disputes Act (1974) provides for judicial procedures to be followed in disputes concerning collective bargaining agreements and other disputes relating to the relationship between employers and employees.

The Constitution guarantees the right to strike, stating that unions "shall be entitled to take industrial action unless otherwise provided in an act of law or under an agreement". The 1976 Co-Determination Act regulates collective actions. Public sector employees also enjoy the right to strike, subject to limitations in the collective agreements which protect the public's immediate health and security. Parties must give seven working days' notice of a collective action. Mediators can be appointed with the consent of the parties or, in certain cases, by the National Mediation Office without consent. There is no injunction procedure, but the Mediation Office may order a party to postpone collective action for up to 14 days. The parties must cooperate with any mediator, or else are liable for fines. Industrial disputes are normally settled through negotiations between the parties concerned at the local or national level. The Labour Court, which includes representatives proposed by the social partners, deals with legal disputes on the interpretation of existing collective agreements where negotiations fail, as well as cases involving allegations of anti-union discrimination. In cases of conflicts of interest (for instance in the event of collective bargaining or strike action in support of a new collective agreement), a public National Mediation Office is available to assist the parties if they so wish.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Consequences of the decision by the Swedish Labour Court on the Laval case:

A breach of the obligation to keep industrial peace is subject to severe sanction in Sweden. According to the Swedish Labour Court judgement in the Laval case, handed down on 2 December 2009, the trade union organisation's tort liability is strict. Not even the circumstance that the industrial action in the Laval case was lawful under the Swedish legislation then in force had any significance for the tort liability.

Consequently, an error of judgement may cause a trade union organisation financial ruin, as the employer can demand full financial compensation for its loss. The fear felt by the trade union organisations for doing the wrong thing by mistake and putting the organisation at risk of being forced to pay high levels of damages has meant that there has been a severe fall in the number of collective agreements signed as regards foreign companies carrying out business in Sweden.

Consequences of the legislative implementation of the ECJ decision on the Laval case:

New legislative rules came into force in 2010 due to the conclusions by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on the so called Laval case. These amendments of law entail restrictions in the right to take industrial action against all companies that post workers to Sweden. The most important restrictions are as follows. Firstly, the new legislation prohibits trade unions from trying to bring about collective agreements using industrial action on matters other than those specifically mentioned in the Swedish Posting of Workers Act.

Secondly, the agreement may only contain rules on minimum rates of pay and minimum conditions. The trade union organisations are prohibited from trying, with the help of industrial action, to reach agreements at a higher level than the absolute minimum level that exist in the central collective agreement in the industry.

Thirdly, the new statutory requirements mean that the trade union organisations are, in some cases, entirely deprived of the right to try to regulate working conditions through collective agreements achieved with the help of industrial action. According to the Posting of Workers Act, industrial action may not be taken at all if the employer shows that the workers' conditions are in all essentials at least as favourable as the minimum conditions of a normal Swedish collective agreement within the framework of the Posting of Workers Directive. This means that in these cases collective agreement free zones are created in the Swedish labour market, where it is only possible to conclude a collective agreement if the employer accept it voluntarily.


No entry for this country for this year

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