Many working days lost to labour disputes in 2010 pay bargaining round

Most Norwegian collective pay agreements were renegotiated during the spring and early summer of 2010. General pay increases were awarded in all major agreement areas, and the gender pay gap was high on the agenda in the public sector negotiations. The 2010 wage settlement did, however, result in a significant number of working days lost to industrial disputes in both the public and private sectors. The most serious of these was a major municipal strike involving 44,000 workers.

In the course of spring 2010, all of Norway’s two-year long nationwide collective pay agreements were subject to renegotiation. The bargaining round was carried out at the industry level – in other words, all the individual collective agreements were negotiated separately. The so-called ‘trend-setting industries’, which include several important industrial sectors such as the metal industry, concluded new agreements in April 2010. A number of other private sector agreements, as well as those for the public sector, were negotiated later.

Equal pay demands and strike action in public sector

The 2010 collective bargaining round in the public sector was expected to be difficult, not least because the unions had high expectations of a special salary boost for female-dominated groups of workers (NO0804029I; NO0911019I). In addition, the economic framework for the public sector wage bargaining round had already largely been set by a moderate result in the trend-setting industries (NO1004019I), and the government stated that few extra funds were available in the national state budget for pay rises. In the central government sector an agreement was reached for an increase averaging 3.3%. Some of the funds to pay for the increase have been set aside for female-dominated employee groups, and will be distributed in the so-called ‘adjustment negotiations’ taking place at the central bargaining level.

In the municipality of Oslo, which is an independent bargaining unit in its own right, the parties also managed to reach an agreement. However, in the rest of the municipal sector, which constitutes a single agreement area, the parties failed to agree, and all four main bargaining confederations went out on strike on 27 May 2010. The strike lasted for nearly two weeks and involved around 44,000 workers. The parties eventually concluded a new agreement providing for an increase of around 3.4%. It represented a significantly larger general increase than the original offer presented by the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS). Local or company-level negotiations will be carried out in autumn 2010 and equal pay and female-dominated groups will be given special priority.

Strikes also took place in state-owned hospitals, when the Confederation of Unions for Professionals (Unio) failed to reach agreement with the employer organisation Spekter. The strike involved mainly nurses and lasted almost a week. The parties eventually managed to reach an agreement providing for increases of about 3.5%. In late June 2010, the Confederation of Vocational Unions (YS) also called a strike in hospitals.

New agreements and strike action in private sector

A number of collective agreements were subject to renegotiation in the private sector. The result achieved in the trend-setting industries influenced the general increases awarded in the rest of the private sector, but the fact that negotiations took place at industry level made it possible to address industry-specific issues as well. There were also several strikes in the private sector during the bargaining season. In the construction industry, a five-day strike took place as a result of disagreement over minimum pay levels in the collective agreement (NO1004019I). Strike action was also taken at a number of freight terminals when the Norwegian Transport Workers’ Union (NTF) and the Norwegian Logistics and Freight Association (LTL) failed to agree on a new collective agreement. One of the issues giving rise to the dispute was a disagreement over the use of workers from temporary employment agencies, as well as the types of jobs to be reserved for ordinary permanent employees, and those that may be carried out by temporary employees. Following three weeks of strike action, the parties reached a new agreement, in which the employers met the employees half way, but by no means conceded to all the demands put forward by the employees.

There were also strikes in the cleaning industry and the security industry, both regarded as typically low-pay industries in Norway. In both these areas, disputes centred mainly on the issue of pay and the unions’ demand for a long-term incremental increase in pay levels. New agreements were reached, providing higher wage increases than originally offered. Security guards also managed to secure agreement on a long-term plan to increase pay levels in their industry.

Commentary

With the majority of the nationwide collective agreements negotiated by the end of June 2010, the results show that wage settlement took place within what may be described as a ‘responsible economic framework’, but with general increases awarded in all sectors and equal pay demands on the agenda in most of the agreement areas. The year 2010, however, will also be remembered for the significant number of working days lost to labour disputes. The main reason for this was the large-scale strike that took place in the municipal sector, which has accounted for roughly two thirds of all days lost so far in 2010.

Kristine Nergaard, Fafo

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