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Eva Nordmark's task: to liberalise Sweden’s employment act and reform the employment service

Eva Nordmark's task: to liberalise Sweden’s employment act and reform the employment service

| Text: Gunhild Wallin, photo Kristian Pohl/Swedish Government Offices

When former TCO President Eva Nordmark accepted to replace Ylva Johansson as Sweden’s Minister for Employment, she also accepted to follow up on proposals she had been critical of in the past, like the liberalisation of the employment act.

The Social Democrats and the Greens formed a coalition government in January this year, with the support of the Center Party and the Liberals. That support did not come for free. The Social Democrats had to compromise on some of the issues closest to their hearts, including changes to seniority rules in the Employment Protection Act (LAS).

Anther demand was dramatic cuts to the Swedish Public Employment Service, and that much of its work should be given over to private operators. Tens of thousands of employment service workers have already left their jobs, and the employment service is proposing the closure of 132 local offices. 

The coalition’s “January agreement” also includes a review of unemployment benefits. This means the former trade union president must now deal with proposals which go contrary to issues that are usually considered to be at the core of Social Democrat beliefs. 

“I have helped make tough decisions before, and will take tough decisions in the future,” Eva Nordmark said about the situation in an interview with Dagens Nyheter on 12 October.

An active career in politics and trade unionism

Eva Nordmark has been involved in politics and trade unions for nearly all of her working life. Her interest in society started early. In a 2011 Nordic Labour Journal interview, the then newly elected TCO President talked about how she visited the municipal council in her home town as a teenager, to see how they worked.

Early on, she also joined the Swedish Social Democratic Youth League SSU in Norrbotten and became their chair. At 20, she became a local councillor and was elected an MP at 24. After graduating, Eva Nordmark started working for her local branch of the Swedish Social Insurance Agency, while becoming increasingly active at the then SKTF trade union, now called Vision. She made a name for herself as a rejuvenator of the union, partly by aiming for 30 % of all elected representatives to be younger than 35. 

In 2011 Eva Nordmark was elected President of the Swedish Confederation for Professional Employees, TCO, which comprises 13 trade unions with 1.4 million members.

Eva Nordmark has been touted as a possible government minister before, but has so far said no. In an interview on Swedish Radio she talks about how happy she now is to take on the challenge and to be given the opportunity to work with the labour market issues that are very close to her heart. Through its labour market policies, Sweden can strengthen its competitiveness and improve workforce adaptability. 

Promises to do her very best

She is well aware that she has been critical to the January agreement’s proposed changes to employment protection. The current LAS legislation allows employers to make exemptions to the “last in, first out” rule if they have fewer than ten employees. The January agreement calls for an easing of this rule, allowing larger employers to make exemptions too. The trade union movement has been protesting, and one representative of that protest has been Eva Nordmark in her role as TCO President.

“It is no secret that I have been critical, but so have many Social Democrats. With my background I want to protect the social partners’ free, independent and strong role in the labour market. The January agreement contains compromises, but also good bits like improved rights for skills development and better protection against arbitrary dismissal,” she told Swedish Radio.

A new proposal will be presented next spring. Eva Nordmark does not want to prejudge that or the political parties’ work, but will discuss the issue further with the Centre Party and the Liberals based on the proposals that emerge. According to the agreement, the social partners can come to an agreement in anticipation of a change in the law, if this is in line with the January agreement.

Agreements must be upheld, including the January agreement, says the new Minister for Labour. She is well aware that she will be facing some difficult questions in the coming year, but is not nervous.

“I think it will be exciting and I promise to do my very best,” says Eva Nordmark.

Filed under:
  • Name: Eva Nordmark
  • Age: 48
  • Grew up in Luleå. Lives in Nacka with her husband. Has two children aged 21 and 23.
  • Studied political science at the Luleå University of Technology LTU. 

Active at an early age in the Swedish Social Democratic Youth League SSU. A Social Democrat MP from 2004. Became chair of SKTF, now Vision, in 2004, and President of the Swedish Confederation for Professional Employees, TCO, in 2011. Appointed Minister for Labour in September 2019.

Awarded the French “Ordre National de Mérite” in 2018 for her work for women’s rights, social dialogue in Sweden and Europe and her engagement for higher education.

She has also sat on a number of boards, including the European Trade Union Confederation and the Luleå University of Technology. She also headed former Prime Minister Reinfeldt’s Commission on the Future.


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