Swedish firms flex to survive coronavirus crisis

by Elsa Ohlen | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 3 April 2020 15:01 GMT

People walk on Drottninggatan, the main shopping street in Stockholm, amid the new coronavirus (COVID-19) spread, in Sweden March 27, 2020. Picture taken March 27, 2020. Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/via REUTERS

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Swedish firms struggling amid the coronavirus outbreak are sharing staff with thriving supermarkets

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By Elsa Ohlen

UPPSALA, Sweden, April 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Sweden may hold lessons for other economies on how to flex in a crisis, experts say, with firms that prosper in the coronavirus lockdown taking on staff - and costs - from sectors worse hit.

Economists say sharing workers could help businesses stay afloat in the global pandemic and deliver better and quicker service to millions of people stuck at home avoiding the virus.

"In this way, we can cater to the needs of both the firms that right now need extra labour, and those that do not," said Patrik Karlsson, a labour expert at Sweden's largest business federation.

Sweden is one of a few European countries that has not imposed a lockdown, with many Swedes continuing to shop, drink and congregate.

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Gatherings of more than 50 people are banned in the country which has recorded over 6,000 cases and around 300 deaths.

The International Labour Organization says 25 million jobs could be lost worldwide due to the novel COVID-19 and Sweden, like other nations, has seen some businesses thrive while others hemorrhage.

HOTELS TO PHARMACIES

Tourism, hotels and restaurants are struggling to make ends meet with Swedish retail chain H&M's sales plunging by nearly 50% in March.

At the same time, online delivery services, pharmacies, and supermarkets are booming and in need of new staff.

The disparity prompted one pharmacy - overwhelmed by a surge in orders - to approach nearby firms struggling to pay the wages of their dormant staff.

"We started reaching out to hotels and local businesses and on social media asking to borrow staff. On Monday, the first employees started," said Par Svardson, CEO and founder of online pharmacy Apotea.

Forty new people had been taken on in this way with plans to increase the total to 100, he said.

Some hotels are lending staff to supermarkets.

"I don't even want to think about what we would have done if we had not made this deal", said Katarina Ivholt, who lends between four and six people per day, out of the 11 people she employs at a boutique hotel in southern Sweden.

But some labour experts say swapping staff on an ad-hoc basis can only help a slowing economy for so long.

"The unemployment insurance and social security (we have) enables increased labour mobility but moving people will not avert the situation we are facing... we are moving towards high unemployment overall," said Stefan Westerberg, senior economist at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce.

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(Reporting by Elsa Ohlen, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths and Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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