Broader representation for social partners on public committees

In 1999 representation on Norwegian public committees in the employment field has been extended to include more social partner organisations, from both the employee and employer side. When the Technical Calculating Committee on Income Settlements (TBU) was reappointed in June 1999, the organisations representing agriculture and fishing were replaced by several new trade union and employers' organisations.

The Norwegian government appointed new members to the Technical Calculating Committee on Income Settlements (Teknisk Beregningsutvalg for Inntektsoppgjørene, TBU) on 25 June 1999, an event which saw the inclusion of additional representatives from social partner organisations. The TBU is a body which works out a common analytical basis for wage settlements by, among other things, estimating wage growth and the wage "carry-over" in different sectors. The committee also provides evaluations of issues such as developments in real income and national competitiveness. The committee does not, however, comment on the coming wage settlements.

The TBU originally had representation only from the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge, LO) and the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (Næringslivets Hovedorganisasjon, NHO). However, in the reappointed committee, which will operate until 30 September 2003, all four main trade union confederations are represented, bringing in the Confederation of Vocational Unions (Yrkesorganisasjonenes Sentralforbund, YS), the Confederation of Academic and Professional Associations (Akademikernes Fellesorganisasjon, AF) and Akademikerne. An additional two employers' confederations are also included - the Norwegian Association of Local Authorities (Kommunenes Sentralforbund, KS) and the Commercial Employers' Confederation (Handels- og Servicenæringens Hovedorganisasjon, HSH). The three organisations representing agriculture and fishing are no longer represented on the committee.

The TBU is just one of several committees that have seen a broadening of their representative base in 1999. All the incomes policy committees established in spring of 1999 have a broad representative base (NO9903123N). This is the case with the so-called "Arntsen committee" (Arntsenutvalget) that established the basis for the 1999 pay round (NO9903120F), as well as the committee appointed to look at strategies for employment and value creation in a long term perspective. The Labour Law Commission (Arbeidsrettsrådet), which was an advisory council to the government on issues concerning the Labour Disputes Act (Arbeidstvistloven), was not reappointed when its term of office ended at the turn of the year 1998/9. The Commission, on which only LO and NHO were represented, was replaced by a temporary committee with representation from all main trade union confederations and employers' organisations (NO9906135F). The government also proposes to widen representation in other joint committees, including the Gender Equality Board of Appeals (Klagenemnda for likestilling).

The debate on representation

The issue of who is to be represented on Norway's various councils and committees on incomes policy matters has frequently been placed on the agenda over the past 20 years. Representation of the social partners has traditionally been the monopoly of LO and NHO, which are the largest organisations. This was the case for both temporary committees and permanent committees, such as the government's "contact committee on incomes policy" (Kontaktutvalg for inntektspolitikken), the TBU and the Labour Law Commission. These committees were all established during the 1960s, and have been important forums of debate for the social partners and the government.

The establishment of several new social partner confederations during the 1970s, and the increased support for these organisations, forced the issue of representation onto the agenda during the 1980s and 1990s. The main confederations outside LO were allotted places on the contact committee on incomes policy during the conservative government's period in office at the beginning of the 1980s. This, however, did not have the effect of allowing these organisations a permanent right to be represented on temporary and permanent committees. For example, the committee deliberating the basis for the so-called "solidarity alternative" - the social pact between the social partners and government, stressing moderate wage growth and employment - had representation only from LO and NHO. Temporary committees, however, did acquire broader representation during the 1990s. The debate concerning broader representation on the permanent incomes policy committees came later, when questions were raised in the late 1990s about the dominant role of NHO. This development was paralleled by increasing competition over members and influence among employers' organisations (NO9712138F).

Commentary

There are both practical and political reasons why the government has opened up public committees and councils to broader representation. The conservative and liberal parties, including the three current coalition government parties, have all been critical of the Norwegian Labour Party's apparent close ties with LO (NO9709122F), and argue that this cooperation has allowed LO too much influence. This is an argument which must be seen in light of the debate generated by the Labour Law Commission's proposal to give the main confederations a more central role within the national bargaining system (NO9706112F). Thus, extended representation on committees and councils may be seen as a manifestation of the government's own views on the matter.

Furthermore, changes to the organisational map in recent years have made it more natural to extend representation with regard to cooperation on incomes policy. Trade union organisations outside LO have witnessed an increase in their support, while employers' organisations other than NHO have made their mark on issues concerning industrial relations and economic policy. This situation has generated frustration among organisations which believe that their influence is lagging behind their support. Thus, in a period in which the government is signalling greater willingness to revitalise cooperation on incomes policy (NO9812117N), it is doubtful that this will take place without the inclusion of more organisations than on previous occasions.

LO and NHO have so far not indicated any reluctance towards extended representation on incomes policy matters, and in most areas it will not mean changes to the existing potential points of tension between the employer and employee side. Two factors may, however, contribute to stirring up controversy in an otherwise relatively harmonious cooperative venture on income policy. First, many organisations on both the employer and employee sides show increased willingness to question the dominance of manufacturing industry - and as such the LO/NHO bargaining area - in the present system of wage formation. This might result in increasing tension within the various incomes policy bodies, though broader representation and greater influence in such bodies may generate a lesser need to express dissatisfaction within the various confederations. Second, participation in public bodies generates significant demands in terms of coordination and centralisation within the participating organisations, many of which have traditionally had power structures which are much more decentralised than that of LO. A lack of such coordination and centralisation may have a significant impact on the work done in the committees, which at present is based on voluntary agreements between the main confederations, by which affiliated unions are more or less bound. (Kristine Nergaard, FAFO Institute for Applied Social Science)

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