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In Sweden, Nobody Sleeps in Dumpsters

by John Brian Shannon | June 24, 2015

In Sweden, nobody sleeps in dumpsters. Not one.

And everyone who visits Sweden wonders why.

The simple answer is that human beings in Sweden are treated as the country’s number one resource. In Sweden, people are ranked #1 while everything else in the economy is considered less important

Strange system, isn’t it?

Holger.Ellgaard - Own work CC BY-SA 3.0

Stockholm, Sweden financial district. Holger.Ellgaard – Own work by CC BY-SA 3.0

That’s not to say that Sweden’s various economic sectors and segments aren’t important, it’s just that ‘people come first’ with the Nordic Model — while companies and government come second and third, respectively.

“Are there any jobs?”

Well yes, there are! In fact, if you want to work, you work! However, some job-sharing may be involved, depending on your industry.

“Are you saying the unemployment rate in Sweden is 0 percent?”

Almost. Historically the unemployment rate hovers around 2 to 3 percent. But since the global financial crisis hit, Sweden’s unemployment rate shot up to a record-high to 8 percent in August, 2013.

But things are not always what they seem. And this is one of those times.

In Sweden, there are employed and unemployed people just like anywhere else — but the difference is every worker is employed for at least 6 months of the year, as the country has mandatory job-sharing for those industries that can’t fully employ their workers.

“So nobody is unemployed for longer than 6 months per year?”

Yes, that’s true. There is unemployment, but each worker knows that they will get re-hired and they know the exact day when they will be re-hired — usually at the same company that they have worked for the past number of years.

It’s a very temporary unemployment rate in Sweden, and there are zero ‘discouraged workers’ — those who’ve given up looking for work. (Unlike the situation in North America!)

The bottom line? It’s a simple case of making certain everyone gets to contribute to the Swedish economy over the course of the year — which has many benefits for workers, their families, corporations and for Swedish GDP.


“Why do Swedish workers, corporations, and the government like this arrangement?”

The benefits are many.

First, corporations love this setup as some industries cannot employ all of their workers year-round, or in industries where the work is seasonal, corporations can easily lay-off their workers and know that their fully-trained workers are guaranteed to return to work on the very day the corporation requests them to return.

Swedish companies always have a waiting list of employees who want to return to work. These workers are temporarily receiving unemployment insurance, but have worked for the company within the previous six-month period.

It’s a simple case for companies of figuring out how many people they need for the coming weeks or months, and sending out the appropriate number of emails to ‘their’ (temporarily unemployed) workers.

Without any further ado, those people show up on the dates requested and they quite willingly return to their ‘old job’ — the job they had before they were laid-off.

Whether their job was canning herring, cutting down trees, teaching science class at High School or working at IKEA, they simply show up and resume their previous duties.

Sometimes, this means that other workers are temporarily laid-off to make room for the returnees, but in the case of seasonal workers or during busy times such as the Christmas shopping season, nobody gets a layoff notice AND the many returnees are simply added to the weekly work schedule.

Sometimes it happens that two people will share a certain position for decades, trading it back and forth every six months.

Remember, the unemployment rate historically sits at 2-3 percent. So, people are mostly employed anyhow.

Second, corporations like having a large pool of already trained workers that are easily available to them.

Because these workers are never away from ‘their’ company for longer than six months (usually fewer months than that) they can return to their company with their skills intact and their familiarity with the policies and procedures of that company allow them to ease back into their ‘old job’ with only a half-day refresher course.

A large pool of fully trained workers with sharp skills, returning to their old jobs, exactly when and where requested, at any time the company wants. That’s a bonus for companies.

Third, not one person in the entire country who is capable of working is on ‘welfare’.

‘That’s funny,” you say, “because I learned that Sweden was a ‘welfare state’ when I was in school.”

Maybe they should have spelled it; ‘Well-fare state’ or said it even more correctly; Sweden is the ‘fare-well nation’ — because they want ‘you the worker’ the number one resource in the country, to ‘fare-well’.

Very well, in fact.

Workers in Sweden are either; a) working, or b) on very temporary unemployment insurance. Say it slowly to let it sink in; In Sweden, there is no ‘other category’.

Disclaimer: People who are retired, or who are home-makers, or are on maternity/paternity leave, or those who have illness or permanent disability, aren’t classed as ‘workers’.

There is no such thing as people who’ve ‘given up’ looking for work and who have turned to other lifestyles, such as living in dumpsters.

In Sweden, if you want to work — you work!

Four, workers like it that they can choose to overpay their unemployment insurance contributions (via a special public/private company set up for that purpose) so that workers can top-up their government unemployment insurance benefits up to 99% of the full pay they received when they were employed.

For the equivalent of two cents per dollar, Swedish workers can voluntarily top-up their unemployment insurance account, to allow up to 99% of their normal salary to be paid to them as unemployment benefit payments while they’re temporarily unemployed.

It’s up to each worker how much they authourize to be automatically deducted from their paycheques. (Each equivalent of 1.6 or 1.7 cents per salary dollar earned, gets you another 10% top-up on your unemployment insurance payments)

Most people voluntarily choose to top-up their unemployment benefits to only 90 percent of their normal salary as they are no longer commuting to work, they don’t need the extra 10 percent to pay for gas or subway fare.

And unemployment insurance benefit payments automatically begin the day you are laid off. Hey, it’s your unemployment insurance — you paid into it. It’s not your fault your industry can’t keep you fully employed!

Just for the record, both the government UI system and the private UI system earn more revenue than they pay out to recipients. Both are profitable enterprises.

Five, unemployed workers can earn extra money ‘covering’ for employed people who call in sick.

I hope I’ve described things well enough that you’ve understood all of the above. Because I’m about to drop a bomb on you.

i) Let’s say you work for IKEA and you’re enjoying your layoff period with your (typical) 90-percent-of-regular-salary unemployment benefits.

ii) So, ‘Sven’ from IKEA calls in sick (skiing accident) and he will miss work for one week on Doctor’s orders.

iii) Your name is at the top of the ‘Do Call’ list because you have seniority at that IKEA location and let’s say that they call you to ‘cover’ Sven’s shifts.

iv) Not only do you continue to receive your full unemployment insurance payments while you ‘cover’ for Sven (typically equal to 90% of your full salary) you also get paid the normal hourly rate for Sven’s job description, which may be slightly more or less than your normal salary.

v) Thank you, Sven!

Many people are eager to get onto the voluntary ‘Do Call’ list for that reason. I wonder why.

(Yes, the private company that offers the top-up insurance investigates these occurrences, but fraud is rarely a problem with such a generous system. The top-up insurance company can cut you off from the top-up system for life. Which means that during your layoffs for the rest of your life, you will be forced to survive on only 66 percent of your regular salary which is what the government unemployment insurance benefit pays)

Six, workers like that while on layoff (at up to 99 percent of normal pay) you can apply to work for a non-competing industry, or take some university classes, or you can volunteer at a charitable organization.

Some people may want to broaden their horizons or they may need to amp up their résumé. Maybe they want a new job that is closer to home, or maybe they want to get into teaching.

If ‘your’ company (the one you normally work for) calls you back to work, you must return to work for ‘your’ company. But employers in Sweden are very good about simply calling the next name on the list if you’re actively enrolled in college, for example.

Seven, while you’re laid-off and receiving up to 99 percent of your normal salary, you may wish to go on a cruise to the Mediterranean for example. That’s expected.

But workers must notify their company ahead of time so that the company you normally work for doesn’t call you to ‘cover’ for Sven who has broken his ankle skiing. Again.

And look at you, suntanning in the Med, missing out on collecting ‘double pay’ just when you thought Sven had mastered the art of skiing. ‘Förbannat du, Sven!’ (Damn you, Sven!)

Life is tough when you’re a Swede.

Read about the healthy Swedish economy here

Sweden’s Example to the World

by John Brian Shannon | December 9, 2014

Sweden began governing with a unique brand of socialism in the 1960’s and almost everything in that small, but very picturesque nation of 9.5 million people has worked very well for citizens and non-Swedish residents since.

The coastal city of Malmö, Sweden. Image courtesy of Viking Trip 2012.

The coastal city of Malmö, Sweden. Image courtesy of Viking Trip 2012.

By combining results-oriented liberalism with a strong focus on the well-being of citizens and investing in a strong industrial base geared towards the export market, the country excelled and continues to excel in many aspects.

Some problems have arisen over the years as one would expect — it can’t be all Camelot and winter wonderland!

For example, during the worldwide financial crisis of 2008/09 Sweden’s unemployment rate shot up to 7.7% and some of the country’s generous benefits-to-citizens were slightly reduced.

Which was pretty shocking stuff for Swedes, as the unemployment rate historically fell within the 2-3% range and benefits had never been curtailed.

Like everything in Sweden, things are taken in stride. The most telling Swedish aphorism is; “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” And don’t forget that the Swedes see winter temperatures as low as -50 degrees every year, though most of the winter it stays at a relatively balmy -25 degrees. Usch!

Although Swede’s certainly enjoy a model society, they pay for it with some of the highest taxation levels on the planet as most employed people pay 50% tax rates or higher. Still, so many things are covered by the state and the society functions so well that it’s a good deal for everyone. An entire separate article would be required to list off every single benefit of living in Sweden’s social welfare state.

Full medical benefits, full medical prescription benefits, full dental benefits, full holistic medical treatment, full employment for life (or at the very least, a job-sharing programme), a very low crime rate, one of the highest life expectancies in the world, a high rating on the UN’s Happiness Index, among the highest literacy rate in the world and many other benefits are part of living in Sweden. That’s the short list!

World’s Happiest Nations are… [Sweden in 5th place] | CNN.com
‘Outstanding’ [2nd place] climate ranking at COP 20 for Sweden | The Local – Sweden

In Sweden, if the industry you work in can’t employ all of its workers, you’re automatically enrolled in a job-sharing scheme whereby you and one other worker ‘share’ a job over the course of the year. Each person in a job-sharing programme works for six months (or more) of the year. One person stays on unemployment insurance, while the other works.

The person who is ‘off work’ for up to six months must still make themselves available to cover any sick days or vacation times of the person who is ‘on work’ for six months. Not only that, but when the ‘off work’ person is called in, not only do they receive their normal unemployment benefits for those days, they also receive the regular hourly wage from the company for those days worked. “Yes, I’d be happy to come in and cover Sven’s shift for him.”

It is unknown in Sweden that a company is short-staffed and thus, cannot handle the workload. Orders are taken, projects are completed on-time/on-budget, companies prosper, and everyone benefits.

Everything in Swedish society functions with degrees of redundancy, not just employment. It’s part of the recipe for success.

Anyone who has visited or worked in Sweden, wants to live or retire there. It’s just that good.

Lack of Leadership Leads to Societal Ills in North America

by John Brian Shannon | October 30, 2014

Putting the ‘cart before the horse’ leads to societal ills

Truism: Whenever and wherever the unemployment rate is low anywhere in the world, drug abuse, crime, and homelessness drops. Jobs prevent the depression that leads to drug abuse, crime, and eventually homelessness.

Because corporations in North America prefer a high-ish unemployment rate (to guarantee they get the choicest and hungriest applicants, and to ensure a large pool of seasonal labour, and as a device that works to continuously dampen calls for a higher minimum wage) we have the follow-on problems of depression, leading to drug abuse in some cases, which eventually leads to crime and later, homelessness for many of the working poor.

Which results in higher costs to society and it’s the taxpayers who must cover those costs, one way or another

To solve this utterly predictable set of problems, all levels of government should be working with corporations to ensure that corporate needs are met — but without destroying the lives of many people who would frankly, rather be working!

When everyone matters, society works better.

When everyone matters, society works better. Image courtesy of Dr. Paul Farmer

Nordic countries ask; What societal problems?

Sweden has mandatory job-sharing in those industries that can’t employ all of their workers. Except for retired people, students, those with chronic illness, or the very wealthy, everyone in the country works for *at least* 6 months of the year. Which neatly prevents such societal ills.

If you’ve ever visited Sweden, you’ll notice that nobody lives in dumpsters

Some industries in Sweden can’t use all of their available workers, so if you’re a worker in that particular industry it simply means that you’re ‘on work’ for 6 months and you’re ‘off work’ for 6 months of the year. The ‘alternate person’ steps in and does ‘your job’ for 6 months while you’re on mandatory time off. Both people get UI from Day 1 of their respective layoff dates.

It’s not like layoffs in North America. It’s more like, “Your scheduled time ‘off work’ is coming up, Anders. So have you arranged the dates for your temporary replacement? You have? Thank you.”

In Sweden, you ‘own’ your job, you’re responsible for it, and you want to perform well for the company that has given you the responsibility for making sure that ‘your job’ is done properly

Also, even though you’re ‘off work’ for 6 months, you’re still expected to be available to fill that position whenever the alternate worker is ill, or can’t make it to work for any other reason. You like that a lot, because their UI system doesn’t penalize you for kindly making yourself available to the company AND you get to keep the wages you earned that day.

If you’re ‘on work’ for your 6 months and suddenly want a day ‘off work’ to go buy a house, propose to your partner, or whatever, you just arrange it with the ‘alternate’ who shares your job — and you’re covered. They come in and do your work for you. You inform the company merely out of courtesy that this will be happening. It’s ‘your job’ after all — not the company’s job.

So, let’s say that you’re off work for 6 months and ‘Sven’ (the person doing your job) has a skiing accident and needs 10 days off work to recover, you not only get your regular UI payment, you also get the normal wages for each day that you replaced Sven.

In this hypothetical scenario, between ‘Anders’ and ‘Sven’ the job they share is totally covered, no matter what, 365 days of the year. Overtime wages? Unknown in Sweden. With one phone call the company simply adds another already trained worker to the project, until project completion. Then they send them back home, until called in to work (for temporary replacement purposes) or the company again calls him to help with additional workload, or timely project completion.

Everyone has a job, or is on UI for part of the year. Consequently, depression, drug abuse, crime, and homelessness are almost unknown in Sweden

Everyone has a job. Whether you are ‘off work’ for a time, or ‘on work’ for a time — you have a job, you have a place in society, you belong to a community. You may work 100 days per year, you may work 200 days per year, or any number of days between 100 to 365 days per year in Sweden. It depends how busy your particular industry is, that particular year.

The takeaway point is; If you live in Sweden — you’re a worker, you’re a valued person, you’re part of Sweden’s ongoing success, you belong.

When everyone matters — corporations work better, society works better, and the UN scores your country highly on the UN Happiness Index

Corporations like this employment policy, because more employees than they can afford to keep employed year ’round ‘own’ their particular position and over the course of a year, both workers communicate often, to make certain that every single working day of the year is ‘covered’ for the company.

The company doesn’t care which of the two workers are onsite on any given day, because both are eminently qualified and both feel that they ‘own the job’ and are responsible for it. Which is much better for the corporation when compared to only one person owning that job.

What happens in a Swedish company when an employee has time off due to illness, mandatory maternity leave, vacation times, or car trouble?

Nothing. The alternate worker is likely already on the premises doing the job. Utter, boring, Swedish efficiency!

The company knows that every work day of the year, each position in the company will be filled by the regular worker or the alternate worker — no matter what!

The inequality in North America is stunning. And there’s no good excuse for it. It’s merely a lack of leadership. Governments are kowtowing to uninspired, faceless, and unaccountable corporations that only care about the bottom line.

But hey, don’t blame the corporations! They’re in business to make a buck — not to solve social problems — that’s the government’s job.

But when the corporations are the ones causing the social problems via their policy of keeping workers hungry for work through a policy of high unemployment, union-busting, threats to export jobs to Asia, downsizing threats and more — that’s when we need to look at a better model.

And in the case of Sweden and other Nordic countries a much better model already exists — not just for society, but for corporations as well.