LO leader wants to debate mediation and industrial action rules

In November 1998, the leader of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions, Yngve Hågensen, called for a review of the present regulations concerning negotiations, mediation and industrial action. The proposal has been welcomed, but any changes to the present legal framework will not take place without thorough deliberation.

The leader of the Norwegian Confederation on Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge, LO), Yngve Hågensen, has called for a review of the present legal framework on negotiations, mediation and industrial action when new collective agreements are being negotiated. The LO leader launched his idea in a speech at the annual conference of LO Stat, LO's cartel for state sector employees, on 25 November 1998. Under present rules, the Chief State Mediator can impose a temporary "cooling-off" period in cases where the collective parties cannot arrive at an agreement during their negotiations. The parties must go through a period of compulsory mediation (lasting two to three weeks), before any industrial action can be taken by either side. A large number of negotiations every year end in compulsory mediation, and it has become common practice rather than an exception to the rule.

In his speech, Mr Hågensen questioned the commitment of the negotiating partners to reach an agreement during the first round of negotiations under the present system. There are no serious implications if an agreement is not achieved during the negotiations: the parties will have a second opportunity to reach a new agreement by mediation. There are also risks involved when putting a negotiated settlement which has not been through compulsory mediation to a ballot of trade union members for approval. If the offer is rejected by union members, it means only that the parties will have to convene for mediation. The LO leader advocates that the parties should be required to undergo compulsory mediation only after a strike or lock-out has been going on for eight-nine days, and he argues that this will provide a greater incentive for the parties to conclude an agreement on their own.

Mr Hågensen's proposal is viewed as interesting both by the deputy director general of the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (Næringslivets Hovedorganisasjon, NHO), Lars Christian Berge, and by the Chief State Mediator, Reidar Webster. Both have stressed the need for a thorough and wide-ranging review before any changes are made. Other commentators have expressed similar views. Any substantial changes to the present regulatory framework would represent the largest permanent change to the Labour Disputes Act's mediation provisions since its introduction in 1915.

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