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Sweden: The Activity Guarantee

| Text: Gunhild Wallin

Being unemployed for long periods is neither good for one's self-confidence, health or psychological state. If you cannot find a job quickly, your chances of finding a job lessen. Sweden is currently making a big effort to get the long-term unemployed back to work.

Unemployment has fallen rapidly in Sweden over the last couple of years. This also includes people who have been unemployed for more than two years. Figures for this group dropped from 83,000 in 1999 to 60,000 in 2000. At the same time, however, the average period of unemployment rose from 680 to 695 days.

"There are some people who can't find jobs despite an upturn in the economy. They may be in the wrong profession, in the wrong place or have occupational injuries that have previously gone unnoticed," says Karin Paulsson from the Swedish National Labour Market Board, who has been heavily involved in the Activity Guarantee Programme since it was introduced in August 2000.

33,400 people took part in September this year. To date, 35-40% of those who took part have got jobs. In contrast to other programmes, which do not last more than six months, those taking part in the Activity Guarantee Programme stay on until they find work, start a training course not covered by the programme or decide to leave.

"The idea was to try and break the vicious circle many of them end up in. They took part in a scheme for six months that then entitled them to unemployment benefits for the same period and then a new scheme would come along. Instead of just looking ahead six months, we try to see what needs to be done to get that person a job.”

An individual plan is drawn up with the jobseeker, who is entitled to apply for all available programmes. It may involve practical experience, training or quite simply learning how to look for a job. Those eligible for the Activity Guarantee Programme belong to a small group of 10-15 people who receive considerably more help than people unemployed for a shorter time. Whereas a supervisor is quite often responsible for 250 people, those working in the Activity Guarantee Programme only deal with a fifth of this number.

"All the available programmes are centralised under one roof and the individual action plan serves as a basis for all activities. Taking part in the Activity Guarantee Programme is a full-time job," says Paulsson. This group is put under the same pressure in terms of geographical movement and movement between occupations as other groups. The pressure becomes even greater after 100 days.

"A welder who can't find work within commuting distance from home has to make a choice. Either he moves somewhere where there is a job or he changes occupation."

Otherwise, benefits are cut by 25 %. The third time a jobseeker says no to the offer of a job, his benefit is withdrawn altogether.

People taking part in the Activity Guarantee Programme get the same holiday entitlement as those in work. Another important part of the Activity Guarantee is the focus on finding new work. To break the trend of high long-term unemployment requires the commitment of the whole municipality or area to find new solutions. Private or public services that can act as a step on the path to the ordinary labour market may be subsidised by the state.



  • The Nordic model represents a partnership between employers, trade unions and the government, whereby these social partners negotiate the terms to regulating the workplace among themselves, rather than the terms being imposed by law.


  • Through collective bargaining, agreements are reached which apply industry-wide. Employers accept the trade unions' right to organise workers, while the trade unions accept that the employers have the right to manage and allocate the work.


  • The model assumes that both the trade unions and the employer organisations are representative. From an international perspective, the level of organisation among employees is extremely high in the Nordic countries, between 50 and 80 %.This is also the case among employers.


  • The Nordic model is supported by the state pursuing an active employment policy. It is based partly on keeping unemployment low and partly on improving the chances of the unemployed of finding a job through the provision of training.

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