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New Swedish delegation to fight work-related crime
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New Swedish delegation to fight work-related crime

| Text: Gunhild Wallin, photo: Ninni Andersson/Regeringskansliet

On 27 September, the Swedish government took another step in the fight against work-related crime when it presented a delegation tasked with increasing knowledge about the issue while supporting the authorities working to stop it.

“Society must not compromise in its view of employers who exploit people and distort competitiveness. The national delegation will represent yet another increase in our ambition to fight cheating and crime in the labour market, and as a result increase security in our society,” Minister for Employment Eva Nordmark told a press conference presenting the new delegation.

The government has launched several initiatives to fight work-related crime in the past, including upping the Swedish Work Environment Authority’s budget by 30 million kronor (€2.9m). In next year’s budget, another 10 million kronor is proposed to fight work-related crime. 

Police capacity has also been increased, and sanctions against employers that break the law have been strengthened. Exploiting people has become a new criminal offence. Since 2018, a range of authorities have been cooperating, including the Work Environment Authority, the Police and the Tax Agency, in order to better catch businesses that are in breach of labour legislation. 

Since then, 4,000 businesses have been inspected without warning. One in ten were either completely or partially shut down, while half were found to be in breach of legislation and told to fix it.

Link to organised crime

There has been growing awareness about the increase in work-related crime. In the hardest-hit sectors, there is a lot of interest both among employers and employees for getting to grips with the problems. The most vulnerable trades include construction, hospitality and transport. 

There is also a link between work-related crime and organised crime. There are large sums of money to be earned on criminal activities within the construction industry, for instance, where many people are being exploited while working entirely without benefiting from collective agreement rights. As a result, many serious companies are finding it increasingly hard to compete with those that can sell goods and services cheaper because they cheat.

Eva Nordmark

Minister for Employment Eva Nordmark.

“Cheating and criminal activity in the labour market is an increasing social problem. Long subcontractor chains and a lack of regulation around labour immigration has resulted in players within several sectors systematically exploiting foreign labour while circumventing licensing and taxation rules. This type of work-related crime sometimes helps finance serious organised crime in Sweden,” said Eva Nordmark.  

Work-related crime impacts most people

The new delegation will be working for over three years. Ola Pettersson is the acting chair, and comes from the positions as an economist at LO, the Swedish Trade Union Confederation. One week after the press conference he was already busy setting up a secretariat.

“What inspires me to do this task is that there are major issues with work-related crime and that this impacts on many people in Sweden. Anyone who pays tax in fact, but it also impacts on many people’s working lives,” says Ola Pettersson.

The delegation will publish a range of progress reports. It will document the scale of the problem and find solutions for how different stakeholders in Sweden and other countries can work together to fight work-related crime. That includes both authorities and the social partners. The first task will be to define what work-related crime actually is. 

“The word is important so that we can highlight something that has not been all that visible in Sweden. We will find a good definition of work-related crime and its scale, which will then allow us to propose measures,” says Ola Pettersson. 

Work-related crime encompasses many different phenomena. It can be criminal exploitation of subcontracted employment, tax avoidance, breaking migration law and the rules for labour immigration – including sometimes pure human trafficking.

“If we are to come up with efficient measures and identify the problem, we need a good definition,” concludes Ola Pettersson. 

Exposed sectors are participating

To help him in this work, he has a delegation of eight people. They represent both employers and employees and are recruited from the construction, transport and hospitality sectors. There is one police representative and an ambassador against human trafficking. 

Ola Pettersson

Ola Pettersson

“The partners will play an important role due to our country’s labour market model. When consensus exists between the partners, the measures become far more powerful and a lot of things are happening already – particularly in the construction industry. Work-related crime is an incredibly serious social problem and we need to do a lot to secure fair conditions and a level playing field for law-abiding businesses,” says Ola Pettersson. 

Norway a role model

Irene Wennemo, Director-General at the Swedish National Mediation Office and former State Secretary at the Ministry for Employment, is one of the delegation members. She considers the delegation to be an important step in the fight against work-related crime, not least because the actual term work-related crime describes what this is all about.  

She first heard the term in Norway, which the delegation describes as a role model for the fight against work-related crime. That country’s efforts will be studied particularly closely. 

Irene Wennemo“We have not taken this issue seriously enough before, but now it is time to talk about work-related crime in our country too. Employers have seen how important it is to them also, and that it is part of serious organised crime,” says Irene Wennemo. 

Norway’s experience also shows that when the issue is elevated to the highest political level, it gets far more traction.

“The exchange of experiences between the Nordic countries is incredibly important for finding solutions to problems in your own country. What works in Norway often works in Sweden if you adapt it slightly,” says Irene Wennemo.  

Working with people who bring skills from different sectors makes it easier to identify obstacles in the work against work-related crime, and creates necessary bridges between authorities and trade organisations. 

“I am really looking forward to working with the delegation. This is an important issue and I am happy that the politicians are strengthening and prioritising the fight against work-related crime,” says Irene Wennemo. 

LO economist heads the delegation

Minister for Employment Eva Nordmark gives Ola Pettersson the task of leading the new delegation against work-related crime (above). He has previously been working as an economist at Swedish LO.

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