Working hours for personal assistants in Sweden

Summary of legislation and debate about working hours for personal assistants in Sweden as of February 2011

Issues related to working hours for personal assistants have been discussed from a variety of perspectives at Assistanskoll. One such issue involves the EU directive 2003/88/EC  “concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time”, which was adopted  in the Swedish Working Hours Act  in 2007. The new rules significantly impacted personal assistance services, raising several concerns; for example, the directive would limit the ability of personal assistance users to travel due to the higher requirements for daily rest forcing travellers to have three assistants instead of two, which would make the trip more expensive. Some assistants also wanted to work longer shifts, including on-call time, and then have a longer rest period.

At the same time it became apparent that under certain circumstances the Working Hours Act could be circumvented. The Working Hours Act does not apply to assistants who are self-employed; they may instead use another law, the Domestic Employment (Working Hours etc.) Act, a more generous framework that favors the employer. Göran Fredriksson, Frösunda Assistans would like to see competitively neutral rules apply to all assistance providers, since the risks are the same regardless of employer. Hanna Kauppi, Swedish Organisation for Local Enterprises, however, believes that the problems are no greater than when the Working Hours Act applies, because the employers take responsibility for the assistants and agreements are always reached through dialog.

Two employers’ organizations, The Association of Private Care Providers and The Co-operative Employers' Association, allow exceptions in their most recent collective agreements. For example, the agreements permit temporary deviations to allow tighter scheduling when a relief worker is ill or on a work-related trip. In such cases, only two assistants need to accompany the personal assistance user, instead of three. At the same time, all parties underscore the responsibility of the employer for health and safety. Joakim Oskarsson, Swedish Municipal Workers’ Union, believes that trips must be carefully planned, including written agreements on hours and compensation. 

In 2009 the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan) wrote guidelines contending that they can report violations of the Working Hours Act to the Swedish Work Environment Authority. The employer organizations opposed this claim. Hanna Kauppi, Swedish Organisation for Local Enterprises, states in an interview that Försäkringskassan should not assume that role, but should leave the matter up to the social partners. “When departing from the rules, both parties usually feel it’s the best solution,” she says. Anita Fink Knudsen, Co-operative Employers’ Association agrees with this criticism. Lena Retzius, Municipal Workers’ Union, supports the position, but says the social partners should be consulted before any reports are made.

Another point under discussion is that on-call time is “baked into” working time. Hanna Kauppi, Organisation for Local Enterprises, is critical of this approach and feels that it causes major problems, particularly when combined with daily rest requirements. Anita Fink Knudsen, Co-operative Employers' Association, is also critical and believes that in some cases assistants are forced to accept part-time employment if they have many hours during which they are on-call while sleeping. Lena Retzius, Swedish Municipal Workers’ Union, however, believes that the cause of the problem rests with Försäkringskassan, which approves too many on-call hours in relation to ordinary hours for assistants.

Representatives from a variety of organizations are highly critical of Försäkringskassan for only approving assistance time for active time, which they believe violates the Working Hours Act. Anna Strimbold from the association JAG Equality, Assistance and Inclusion, describes several cases in which Försäkringskassan required assistants to be awake and attentive during on-call time. Anita Fink Knudsen, Co-operative Employers' Association, states that watching someone can never be on-call time and compares the situation with the processing industry, where duties also include monitoring, but it is regarded as ordinary working time. Joakim Oskarsson, Municipal Workers’ Union, joins the critical voices: “The unions share a common interest with employers and user organizations on this matter,” he says.