Why VAB Annoys The Hell Out of Me

What is VAB and why does it annoy me so much?

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VAB (Vård Av Barn) is a system in Sweden whereby a parent can stay home from work if their kid is sick and they will not be penalised by their employer. Why does it annoy me so much?

Sweden has to be one of the best places in the world to raise a child. It places the family and the well-being of the child at the top priority when it comes to juggling the work/family conundrum. Looking after your children is literally written into employment law!

This is great if you have or want kids but if you don’t then it can be the cause of much frustration on a daily basis.

What is VAB?

VAB stands for vård av barn or care of a child in English.

What VAB basically means is if you wake up one day and your child is ill you can call your place of employment and tell them you are not coming in that day. You get no marks against your name, no warnings, no disciplinary action, no loss of holiday, no having to make the work up and nobody says anything negative about it.

Except for people like me who are have been given a totally different work ethic. I’m not saying what I am used to is better but it is what I am used to.

The only downside to ‘VABbing’ is that you only receive 80% of your salary for the days you VAB. Naturally, on the days you VAB the child can’t be at daycare or school.

You’d think that would be pretty obvious, right? After all, your kid is sick and that’s why you called in VAB but of course, people do play the system. Why not when you can have a day off work with little penalty?

To explain why people might want to play the system I’d need to explain the system we have in Sweden for when someone calls in sick. The first day of sickness is unpaid so people if people have children they are more likely to VAB than be sick. After all, who wants to lose a whole day’s pay for a hangover?

Compare VAB to how things work in England. If you have a kid in the UK and they are sick you have two choices. You can leave them at home alone or call in sick from work yourself. This can then lead to loss of earnings, warnings, disciplinary action and possibly having to make up the work you missed,

Who pays for VAB?

Taxpayers do. It’s part of the social welfare system in Sweden that provides cheap daycare and other systems for parents.

In Sweden, a place in state-financed daycare costs about £100 a month and you can put your child there weekdays from 7 in the morning until 6 in the evening from the age of 1. There is also after-school care where kids are looked after from when school ends, at about 14.00 until their parents come and collect them or they can make their own way home.

Who keeps a check on this?

Basically, everything in Sweden is linked by computers and by our social security numbers, which is like a National Insurance number.

Everything you do from taking out a gym membership to buying a house requires your personal number. It tracks everything and everyone can go into the tax office website and look up everyone else’s details about earnings, tax paid, cars owned, etc.

So, if you VAB the Försäkringskassan (basically the Department of Health and Social Security) check to see if the daycare or school logs your child as being present for that day. If they have, you don’t get paid by them.

In essence, if you wake up with a hangover and you want a day off work then your kid gets a day off school too. If the kid is under 6 then they can’t go to daycare. A day at home with an infant is probably worse than being at work when hungover!

Why does VAB annoy me?

Picture the scene. You have a meeting booked with your boss, a colleague or your underling about something important. You arrive at work or the meeting only to find it’s cancelled because they are VAB. This throws a major spanner in the works.

This type of absence from work is by its very nature unplanned and it can take weeks or months to reschedule everything and even then they might VAB again!

Bosses in Sweden tend to be quite anal when it comes to decision making and things go up through the chain of command and then filter back down with a yes or no. When I worked at Folkuniversitetet (an adult education school) it literally took a year to finalise a three-sided pamphlet because people kept VABbing and it went up the chain and back down.

I can remember once we travelled to another town for a regional meeting only for us to learn when we arrived that the pivotal person was VAB. We sat around all day because we couldn’t do anything without her, I just wanted to murder people but everyone else was perfectly okay with it.

As an Englishman, I really do wonder how the workplace functions when people can and are absent at a drop of a hat.

But no job, no problem. Right?

Not exactly. You could have an appointment with just about anyone and you turn up to discover the person you have the meeting with is VAB. God forbid you should have an early appointment because you quite often get no notification but if you have an afternoon appointment you stand a chance of being tipped off.

Companies usually don’t book anyone to stand in for people who are sick or VAB so you have to rebook the meeting. If it is with a doctor this can take weeks.

Shhh! Don’t speak about it!

VAB is a taboo subject. If someone says that a colleague isn’t coming in today because they are VAB you are not allowed to tut, look annoyed or display a negative body language. It is tantamount to discrimination!

I once exclaimed my frustration when I had to cancel a meeting for the third time with my (then) boss because she was VAB and I wasn’t spoken to for the rest of the day by my colleagues.

I once went for an interview for a different position within a company I worked for. When asked why I should be considered for the role I said that, unlike other people in the running I didn’t have kids so I wouldn’t VAB. They acted like I was throwing out racial slurs in an immigration centre and quickly told me I wasn’t allowed to say that because it is discriminating against people with children.

Is it a good thing or a bad thing?

If having a family is your thing then it can only be a positive. I’ve known people move back to Sweden from the UK as soon as they became pregnant because they wanted the protection that the Swedish welfare system affords parents.

However, for the rest of us, it is a right pain in the arse. It is difficult to get anything done, plan anything and the extra workload that is placed on you because people are absent at short notice is beyond a joke.

Sure, people get sick and call in with little notice but you have an idea how long they will be sick for and if there is a penalty, as in the first day is unpaid, people are not as likely to do it. With VAB people can, quite literally, be absent every other day because the kid is ill then better then ill then better.

And, Jesus, if they have more than one kid it is even worse! One has a cold then the other one gets it when the first is better and so on.

All in all, having a kid is a bloody good excuse to be off work and lose next to nothing in pay and it frustrates the hell out of me because it can ruin your plans for the whole day, week and even month. Add to that the fact most bosses are anally retentive control freaks which means I am not allowed to make a decision and everyone down the chain is frustrated at the lack of progress.

I can imagine how this would work in England.

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