In Sweden, a large percentage of employees, both in the private and public sector, are members of a trade union (fackförening). Working conditions are regulated to a great extent through collective agreements, negotiated by unions and employers. Unions are open to all, regardless of nationality or type of employment, and not affiliated with any political party or religious organization.
Union membership can facilitate access to many kinds of assistance (e.g. information related to doctoral studies and legal assistance). You should keep in mind that trade unions and student unions both advocate for your rights as a doctoral student to a good study and work environment, but they are not the same. It is possible to become active through either and advocate for improvements of doctoral students’ conditions.
As a doctoral student, you can opt to join a trade union. If you are employed, the same conditions apply as to all other employees in your workplace. If you are financed through a scholarship you may have special membership in the trade unions for academic or public sector workers.
Even if you opt to not join a union, they influence your work environment and conditions. Your contract with your employer is very likely to be a collective agreement, negotiated by the unions, with provisions that build upon labour law to further improve your rights and benefits. Unions are also responsible for the safety ombuds that some workplaces have, who help with your issues and concerns even if you are not a member. Unions also run unemployment insurance funds (A-kassa) which you can sign up for even if you are not a member of a union.
As a member of a union, you have the opportunity to participate in union work and to contribute to improving working conditions, for yourself and others.
You also get access to various benefits, such as income insurance, personal advisory services that can help you navigate your rights and the regulations that apply at your workplace, and access to salary statistics.
The trade union can also assist you, representing your interests in individual cases. In cases where you feel your rights are being violated, or if conflicts occur at the workplace, the trade union can help you clear conflicts and back you up in case the conflict turns into a legal matter. To be assisted by a trade union you generally need to be a member of it, and to have been for at least three months in some cases.
Here are some of the unions that are most relevant for doctoral students:
Swedish Association of University Teachers, SULF, is the association for university teachers, researchers and doctoral candidates. The SULF Doctoral Candidate Association is the doctoral students association of SULF, with more than three thousand doctoral student members. It assists by monitoring labor issues, employment terms, admissions, equality, the post-doctorate labor market and the quality of doctoral education. SULF is part of SACO – trade union confederation of 22 affiliated associations. Members are university graduates or professionals with a college degree.
Fackförbundet ST is the largest union within the Swedish state, with members who work for state agencies, companies employed by the state, universities, university colleges and state financed foundations. Doctoral students at private universities can also be members of ST. Avdelning ST inom Universitets- och Högskoleområdet is the department of ST within university- and university college areas. ST belongs to the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (TCO), a national trade union centre, the umbrella organisation for eighteen trade unions in Sweden that organise professional and other qualified employees within both the private and the public sectors
If you are employed on a doctoral studentship you can be a member of either SULF and ST (but you can of course opt for another union). If you are financed through a scholarship, both these unions have special membership for you – you should check on their website. If you are financed through some other employment, what union you can belong to depends on the type of employer.
If you are hired in the healthcare sector, one of the most common for healthcare workers and municipal workers:
The Swedish Junior Doctors’ Association (SYLF) is the professional association for doctors before they become specialists, organizing those who are completing their internship and specialist training (residency). Doctoral students are often Junior Doctors, and can belong to SYLF.
There are several other trade unions that could be relevant for you as a doctoral student, depending on your field of studies and your financing. To find out which other trade unions you can be a member of, we suggest that you ask your colleagues.