A-kassas (short for arbetslöshetskassa) are unemployment funds that pay income-related insurance benefits. It's a topic well worth taking the time to understand amid the coronavirus pandemic – especially with more generous temporary rules currently in place (more on this below).
We invited readers of The Local to send in questions for Anna Wright, of Akademikernas a-kassa, Sweden’s biggest income insurance provider for university graduates. Here, she explains the key things you need to know and responds to questions you sent us on Facebook and via email.
Q: What’s the difference between an a-kassa and a union (fackförening or just ‘fack’ in Swedish)? Can you join an a-kassa even if you’re not a member of a union?
Anna Wright: It’s not a requirement to be a member of both a union and unemployment insurance fund (a-kassa), but we always recommend you join both. Here’s the difference:
You can get money from an a-kassa if you become unemployed.
From a union, you can get negotiating help, salary statistics, advice on employment law, a review of your CV or LinkedIn profile and more.
If you’re a member of both, you can also get income insurance that covers up to 80 percent of your entire salary if you lose your job. The benefit from the income insurance is paid by the trade union – but it’s always based on our decision on unemployment benefit (which we pay).
Q: Is it mandatory to be a member of a union and an a-kassa to be able to get 80% of your salary in case of unemployment?
AW: It depends on how much you earn. In 2020, you can receive up to 80 percent of 33,000 Swedish kronor from the unemployment insurance fund. We always recommend that you join a union for the reasons above.
Q: What do I need to know about the temporary rules on unemployment benefit introduced in 2020 due to coronavirus?
AW: A number of temporary changes were agreed by the Swedish Government and supporting parties earlier this year in response to the economic impact of the pandemic. The key changes are:
Increased maximum benefit: the highest benefit level is 80 percent of your income up to 33,000 kronor per month and the maximum benefit per day is now 1,200 kronor before tax for the first 100 days of unemployment.
No waiting period: unemployment benefit will be paid out from the first day of unemployment, rather than after a six-day waiting period.
Shortened membership requirement: you could qualify for up to 80 percent of your salary after being a member for just three months from March to December 2020 (compared with 12 months if you applied before April 13th 2020)
These rules are due to expire after January 3rd 2021. A potential extension to the higher compensation levels beyond this date is being discussed. But the rest will go back to 'normal' with the qualifying period reintroduced, meaning you will then need to have been a member for 12 months to receive compensation based on your salary. You can find full details here.
Q: I’m self-employed. Why join an akassa?
AW: Many university graduates choose to go their own way and start a business. But there's always a risk that your company will not be profitable. If you then end up needing to claim unemployment insurance, what you receive will be based on your higher earnings – whether that was as an employee or as an entrepreneur. This applies so long as you become unemployed within 24 months of finishing as an employee – otherwise, we will base the benefits on the period in which you had your own business.In Sweden, it's actually almost 50 years since the self-employed were given the right to join an a-kassa!
Q: Can I become a member although I’m not working and I’m new to Sweden?
AW: You can join an a-kassa as soon as you start to work and pay tax in Sweden.
Photo: Getty Images
Q: Why is Akademikernas a-kassa’s fee changing to 140 kronor per month in October?
AW: The fee was adjusted to reflect the higher costs associated with offering a more generous daily allowance. This allowance was increased from 910 kronor to 1,200 kronor in March to mitigate the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic for individuals and society. Benefits from a-kassas are financed by membership fees and employer contributions. And when 75 percent of our unemployed members get higher daily allowances, we need to contribute more to the government cost.
We've had an exceptional year, with 40 percent more applications for benefits. We've also had around 50,000 new members join us and we've still been able to maintain our processing times for applications to join.
Q: I live in Sweden and pay Swedish income tax but commute to London, where I start and end my flights as cabin crew for an airline. I’ll be furloughed in October and I’m wondering if I’m eligible to pay into an a-kassa?
AW: First of all, do you have a Swedish work permit – that is, are you able to work for a Swedish employer? Second, is your employer paying Swedish social security costs (arbetsgivaravgifter)? If the answer to both these questions is ‘yes’ you should be able to join a Swedish a-kassa and get unemployment benefits if your employment ends, provided you fulfil the normal requirements.
Q: Finally, one Facebook comment encouraged people to save money themselves instead of joining an a-kassa, which the reader claimed may not pay out when needed. Another reader quickly disagreed! So, what does the expert say?
AW: We’re sorry you feel that way about the a-kassa system in Sweden. All the a-kassas have the same rules and if you fulfill the requirements you will get your benefits. If you become unemployed you can get up to 26,400 kronor before tax per month – and you’d have to save your membership fees for quite some time to get that amount of money.