Since the beginning of the month, workers in municipalities and regions have been entitled to eleven hours of uninterrupted rest per day, bringing Swedish collective labor agreements into line with the EU Working Time Directive. The enhanced right to recovery makes 24-hour shifts impossible, which was previously common in many companies. Given that there are already healthcare staffing issues, many have called for exceptions to the new rules.
This spring, concerns within the medical profession were somewhat assuaged when, after lengthy negotiations, the Medical Association and the Swedish Municipalities and Regions, SKR, presented an agreement that allows exemptions in exceptional cases.
There was only one catch: the waiver agreement required approval from the European Commission. After several months of waiting, the answer came late Monday evening. In the letter, Mikaela Kumlin thanks Granit, head of the Swedish EU representation, for the additional information and writes that the case has now been closed. Lars Rocksén, first vice-president of the Medical Association, is pleased with the news.
– This means that the European Commission has accepted the solutions regarding exemptions that we negotiated. We are very happy with it, he says.
Despite the long wait, he was never really concerned that the scheme would not be accepted by the EU.
– We were confident that we had resolved this properly and had anchored it with both parties. But it would be very difficult to start all over again if we had received a different message.
In the worst case, the European Commission could have enforced new, stricter legislation in Sweden, says Lars Rocksén.
– And the legislation could have made significant savings. It would not have turned out well for either us or the employers.
But it is not time to sit back and relax just because it has now been determined that exemptions can be granted, because exemptions can only be granted if “no other reasonable remedies are available” – and only for one year at a time.
– The employer must be able to demonstrate that he has tried all possible solutions, including new recruitment and hiring of staff, before he can apply for an exemption. So now employers have been given homework to solve the personnel problem, says Lars Rocksén.
While nurses, midwives and paramedics, for example, have already had to adjust their schedules, for doctors it will take until February 1 next year before the tightened regulations come into effect.
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