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Why Swedes are aware of integration issues

| Text: Björn Lindahl

What is it that the trade unions and employers in Sweden do to make them top a ranking of awareness of integration issues made by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA)?

The ranking is not strictly scientific, but more of an informal exercise where the researchers valued the response to six questions put to employers and trade unions in the 27 EU member states. (Read about the report here).

"One reason the trade unions and employers were so aware of the issue is that a new law against discrimination was introduced on 1 January 2009. Those we questioned had received a lot of information about the need to combat discrimination," says professor Birger Simonson at the University of Gothenburg's Department of Work Science.

He wrote the country report about Sweden for FRA. The awareness of discrimination issues has long traditions.

"In the labour movement the question of gender biased wages was raised already in the 60s."

Sweden also has one of the EU's least restrictive policies towards refugees. An example of its relatively open immigration policy is that Sweden in recent years has accepted more refugees from Iraq than any other European country. Twelve percent of the Swedish population is born in a foreign country. The immigrants are overrepresented in occupations such as cleaners (31 percent), textile industry workers (28 percent) as well as butchers and bakers (24 percent). They are underrepresented in areas like the police force (1 percent) and the military (2 percent).

Trade union density is still very high in most sectors in Sweden with an average of more than 70 percent. In 2007 changes in the unemployment insurance made the density drop by 4.4 percentage points, however.

"Union representatives we talked to were fairly senior in the organisation and worked full time in the union, which might influence how much they knew about integration issues," says Birger Simonson.

The City of Gothenburg is mentioned in his report as an example of what is being done in Sweden to combat ethnic discrimination. It has implemented a new tool in the employment processes. In order not to emphasise certain education or training aspects, the HRM department asks itself for what purpose the new employee is needed. If knowledge of Swedish language is not needed in the job, it should not be considered when employing individuals. Some 4 to 5,000 employees also receive regular training on racial discrimination annually.


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