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WORKING IN SWEDEN

EXPLAINED: Can you negotiate a pay rise in Sweden to offset inflation?

With Sweden's central bank expecting inflation of nearly 8% this year, everyone working in the country is in line for a real-terms pay cut. We asked Gunilla Krieg, central ombudsman at the Unionen union, what scope there is to negotiate a salary hike to compensate.

EXPLAINED: Can you negotiate a pay rise in Sweden to offset inflation?
In Sweden, you need to come prepared to your salary review. Photo: Lieselotte van der Meijs/Imagebank Sweden

With Sweden’s central bank expecting inflation of nearly 8% this year, everyone working in the country is in line for a real-terms pay cut. We asked Gunilla Krieg, central ombudsman at the Unionen union, what scope there is to negotiate a salary hike to compensate.

How soon can I get a pay rise to compensate for high inflation? 

Probably not for a while. 

About 90 percent of workers in Sweden are covered by the collective bargaining agreements made between employers and the country’s trade unions. The last round of salary deals was negotiated at the union-employer level back in 2020, and most of them will remain valid until March or April next year.

This means that most employees in Sweden will not see their salaries adjusted to take inflation into account for at least nine months. 

“Under this special model that we have, we already have a level for the wage increases for this year, so you can’t get compensation for the inflation right now,” Krieg explained. 

You might be able negotiate a pay rise in addition to what the unions have agreed in your personal salary review, she added. 

“Of course, you have that freedom. Whether you work in a small company, or a big company, a company that has a collective agreement, or one that doesn’t, you always have the freedom to ask for a salary rise,” Krieg said. 

The only issue is that most unionised companies only offer personal salary reviews once a year, and for the majority of employees, the window of opportunity passed in the spring. 

“You have to find out when you have a salary review as part of the collective agreement you have at your own workplace,” Krieg recommended. “For most collective agreements, that is in the spring, although some collective agreements have it in the autumn.” 

What if I’m not part of a union? 

If you are among the 10% of workers not covered by a collective bargaining agreement, you can ask for a pay rise whenever you like, but unlike union members, you have no right to a pay rise. The decision is wholly up to your employer. 

Gunilla Krief is the central ombudsman for the Unionen union. Photo: Patrik Nygren/Unionen

So will the unions eventually negotiate above-inflation pay increases? 

Probably not. 

Unions in Sweden have historically been quite responsible, and understood the risk of creating a wage-price spiral by demanding wage increases that match or exceed inflation.

“Twenty-five years ago, we had a really high wage increases in Sweden, and we had very, very big inflation, so people got more money in their wallets, but they couldn’t buy anything, because inflation went up much higher than wages,” Krieg explained, putting the union perspective.

“We always take responsibility for the entire labour market, and that’s good in the long term,” she added. “There’s been much more money in the wallet for employees in Sweden over the past 25 years. That’s why we think we should we should not panic because of inflation. It may be that for one year it will mean less money in the wallet, but in the long run we benefit.” 

Can I argue for an inflation-busting pay rise in my salary review? 

You can certainly argue for a pay rise of 8 percent, or even more, but you don’t cite inflation as a reason for it. 

“Everything is individual, so you can, of course, negotiate up your salary, and there is no limit to how much you can ask for,” Krieg explained.

“If you have a job or an education for which there’s a shortage on the Swedish market, then you can get a much higher wage increase. Up in the north of Sweden, where we have [the battery manufacturer] Northvolt, and we have mines and the steel industry, they are looking for a lot of competence right now, and there you can have a much higher rise in wages.” 

But, particularly if you’re covered by collective bargaining, you can’t really cite inflation as justification, as that is one of the factors that unions and employers are supposed to factor in during their negotiations. 

What’s the best way of getting a big pay rise? 

The best way to get a pay hike of as much as 5,000 kronor or 10,000 kronor a month, Krieg suggests, is to apply for other jobs, even if you don’t end up taking them. 

“You can get offers from other companies, and then you can tell your employer that ‘I really liked it here, I enjoy this work, and I want to stay here, but now they are offering me 10,000 kronor more at another company, and if you can raise my salary like that,  of course I will stay here’,” she said.

In a normal salary interview, she adds, it’s important to be able to demonstrate your results. Look again at your job description, and what your goals are for the year, and identify concrete achievements that meet or exceed these goals. If you have any additional duties, you can cite them to argue for a higher salary. If you’ve done any courses, or learned any skills, you can cite these. 

At any time in the year, if your superiors praise any work you have done, keep those emails, or write it down, so that in your salary review, you can say, “you said that this report I did was ‘the best you’ve ever seen’,” or such like. 

Finally, you should find out in advance if there are any salary criteria being applied, so that you can argue that you exceed them, and so demand a higher raise than that agreed for the company as a whole with the union. 

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WORK PERMITS

Swedish parliament to vote on raising minimum salary for work permits

Next week, the Swedish parliament is due to vote on a proposal to raise the current work permit salary threshold from the current level of 13,000 kronor a month. The government and the Sweden Democrats have proposed raising it to around 33,000 kronor a month.

Swedish parliament to vote on raising minimum salary for work permits

The proposal would raise the maintenance requirement for work permit applicants from outside the EU, the Nordic countries and Switzerland – and it looks likely to pass, as the three government parties, along with the Social Democrats and the Sweden Democrats are in favour of the move.

The current proposal was put forward by the former Social Democrat government, and after discussions in the social insurance committee, it was clear that a majority of the parliamentary parties are in favour – only the Left Party, the Greens and the Centre Party are against it.

“A higher maintenance requirement is a welcome step on the path towards a system that curbs cheating and fraud and focuses on highly qualified labour immigration,” migration minister Maria Malmer Stenergard told TT newswire in a written comment.

The Swedish framework for work permit immigration has been described as unique. In contrast to most other countries in Europe which are specifically aimed at highly educated immigrants, Sweden accepts all immigrants who fulfil the requirements despite their education or profession.

The number of labour immigrants to Sweden has also increased substantially. So far this year, over 50,000 applications have come in, of which 38,000 have been approved. Labour immigrants represent the majority of immigrants in Sweden.

It’s also unclear when the change in legislation could become law. No date is given in the proposal, but the suggested date of implementation is “the day the government decides”.

Another element which is not yet clear is exactly how high the salary threshold will be. This will be decided in a separate regulation, which is planned to come into force at the same time as the new law.

Sweden’s Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard has yet to say what the new salary threshold will be. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

“The goal is to introduce the new maintenance requirement as soon as possible, and we will give more information on the exact limit at a later date,” Stenergard told TT.

In the Tidö coalition agreement, the government and the Sweden Democrats state that the salary threshold should be the same as the average salary, which is currently around 33,000 kronor a month.

Seasonal workers, such as berry pickers, will not be affected by this proposal.

Further tightening up of labour migration laws are also expected in the future. For example, the government wants to investigate if certain professions – such as personal assistants – should be banned from getting work permits. Stenergard has also announced that the so-called ‘track change’, where asylum seekers can switch to other permits, such as work permits, will be abolished.

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