Information provided by SPF Seniorerna and Nordic Older People’s Organisation (NOPO) and desk research
Sweden is one of the longest-working countries in Europe. The employment rate of 55-64-year-olds is 77.3% in 2022. In 2012, 64.8% of pensioners in Sweden continued to work for non-financial reasons such as job satisfaction.
This high rate is partly due to the support given to older people in the labour market by social practices and a strong trade union tradition dating back to the 1930s. For example, collective agreements between employers and employees provide for a smooth transition to retirement. Some also guarantee the employability of workers throughout their working life, by improving participation in training for workers at the end of their career. This type of agreement allows older people in difficult and arduous occupations to move into more sustainable jobs.
Several age-neutral measures benefit older workers but also companies. This facilitates professional retraining within the organisation itself, which, by investing in training, retains the talents and experience of its employees, even at a later stage in their careers. Among these measures, the FILO seniority rule based on the “first in, last out” principle encourages the retention of the most experienced workers and on working time in the company. The “Equal pay for equal work” is also an incentive to keep or hire older workers in the company while seniority wages can be a financial barrier for organisations to hire or retain older workers. Both rules are based on seniority rather than age.
According to Eurostat, in 2021, 44.3% of the long-term unemployed were aged between 55 and 64, which is lower than the EU average of 54.1%. The above-mentioned agreements and rules provide strong guarantees for older workers and protect them from unemployment. They also have an incentive effect and facilitate the hiring of older people seeking employment. In addition, up to the age of 60, students at e.g. university college, university or vocational college, the compulsory and upper secondary level at Komvux (adult education college) or folk high school, can get student grants and loans. According to the Joint Employment Report 2022, Sweden has strengthened lifelong learning programmes at the municipal level and within educational institutions for adults who need to improve their labour market situation. However, there are currently no specific programmes or interventions for older jobseekers.
There is also a programme called Nystartsjobb which offers compensation to employers who are willing to hire a person who has been absent from the labour market for a long period. This programme had special rules for people over 55, allowing employers who hired jobseekers over 55 to receive twice as much support, up to a maximum of 10 years or until the age of 65. These special rules ended in 2017 despite the fact that most jobseekers aged 54-65 have been registered with the Swedish public employment service for more than a full year.
According to the proposed Joint Employment Report for 2023, Sweden remains the best-performing country in the EU with an employment rate for women of 78%, approaching the employment rate for men. For Swedish women aged 55-59, the employment rate is 81.9%, compared to 87.3% for men of the same age. The Swedish approach supports women in their right to work and their autonomy, which could explain the high employment rate of older women. Both men and women are entitled to 18 months of parental leave, which must be shared over at least 6 months. In addition, as soon as the child is one year old, the municipalities must offer a childcare solution to the parents. These two measures make it easier for women to take leave and share parenting activities. In addition to the fact that there is no incentive to stay at home, Every tax-payer declares their income independently, and not for example together with a spouse, This individual and not a family approach could, for certain types of jobs and families, favour women’s employment. An additional challenge for greater gender equality would be to address the remaining gender pension gap.
In 2009, Sweden adopted the Discrimination Act which prohibits age discrimination and applies to working life. It was amended in 2017 to oblige employers and education providers to investigate the existence of risks of discrimination or other barriers to equal rights for individuals and to take proactive measures.
An Equality Ombudsman is also responsible for monitoring compliance with the law. In 2012, its report on age discrimination in working life indicated that age discrimination is common in working life, particularly in the recruitment process.
Case law on age discrimination from the Swedish Labour Court
Two bus drivers and a transport and medical care driver were refused new employment, as required by a company’s age policy, on the grounds that they were over 70 years old. The parties agree that the company’s actions in themselves led to a difference in treatment on the basis of age that falls under the prohibition of discrimination in Chapter 1.4 of the Discrimination Act. The question is whether the difference in treatment can nevertheless be regarded as having been permitted under one of the exceptions provided for in Chapter 2, Section 2, of the same Act.
The issue, in this case, was whether the ’70 year rule’ could be considered a genuine and determining occupational requirement for the job of a driver in the current company. The Court held that, although the ’70-year rule’ is not in itself a requirement, certain physical abilities may constitute a genuine and determining occupational requirement in this case. Secondly, the question remained whether the general age limit was appropriate and necessary to achieve the legitimate objective of road safety. The Labour Court found that the employer had not convincingly demonstrated that the general age limit was an appropriate and necessary measure to achieve the legitimate objective of increasing road safety. The court found that other measures could be taken (such as medical checks) to assess the physical and mental capabilities of drivers, and that the age limit was therefore prohibited.
As the court found that the employer had not intentionally discriminated against the employees, the financial damages awarded to the employees were limited to 4 000€
Sweden has its own law on health and safety at work: the Working Environment Act. This law provides for the adaptation and rehabilitation of the workplace. It states, among other things, that the employer shall adapt the work situation of an individual employee to meet his or her abilities for the job. The Work Environment Authority, wishing to adapt this legislation to the ageing of the population and thus the workforce, recommends that the special needs of older people be taken into account and that their skills and experience be used to optimise any reorganisation of work. Mental health and psychosocial risks are also covered by the Working Environment Act, the Working Time Act and collective agreements between employers and workers’ organisations.
In order to support older workers in arduous occupations, an employer can call on the occupational health service called Företagshälsor. The experts of the occupational health service help employers to prevent and reduce all kinds of risks in the working environment. They support and assist the employer in preventing illness at the workplace and in facilitating a quicker return to work in case of illness or injury. Finally, there is also a health and safety committee in all companies. They are assisted by the trade union apparatus and train the company’s employees to appreciate dangerous and painful situations at work.
Policy Officer on Employment and European Parliament Liaison
Sarah is in charge of AGE’s policy activities in the fields of employment, participation and active citizenship in old age. She also monitors EU initiatives on volunteering for older people and lifelong learning. She is responsible for the Task Force dedicated to on Employment, participation and active citizenship. Sarah also coordinates AGE’s relations with the European Parliament (EP).