Merger creates Norway's largest union

In June 2003, a new trade union, Fagforbundet, was established by a merger between the Norwegian Union of Municipal Employees and the Norwegian Association of Health and Social Care Personnel. The new organisation is Norway’s largest union, with approximately 300,000 members.

On 17 June 2003, a new trade union, Fagforbundet, was created as the result of a merger between the Norwegian Union of Municipal Employees (Norsk Kommuneforbund, NKF) and the smaller Association of Health and Social Care Personnel (Norsk Helse- og Sosialforbund, NHS) (NO0211106F). The new union, with approximately 300,000 members, is Norway's largest. It mainly organises employees in the municipal sector, a large majority of whom are women. Fagforbundet is affiliated to the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge, LO). NKF and NHS started talks on a possible merger as early as 1998, and the matter was subsequently subject to considerable debate and a comprehensive process of deliberation (NO9809185F and NO0211106F).

At Fagforbundet's founding congress the previous chair of NKF, Jan Davidsen, was elected chair of the new union, while Tove Stangnes, the previous chair of NHS, was elected first deputy chair. The elected leadership comprises nine members, six from NKF and three from NHS. The leadership elections caused some controversy at the congress, mainly because NKF’s previous deputy chair failed to obtain a leadership position in the new union.

The new union is divided into four sections:

  • health and social work;
  • church-, culture- and youth-related work;
  • communication and technical work; and
  • office and administrative work

The main responsibility of these sections is to promote the specific occupational interests of Fagforbundet, and it is hoped that they will contribute to strengthening the professional profile of the union. Analogous sections will be established within local-level trade union organisations. The sections will enjoy representation in the new union’s decision-making bodies and in the leadership. However, responsibility for wage negotiations, more general policy matters and other common issues will rest with the leadership and decision-making bodies.

The new union’s work programme was approved at the founding congress. It voices concerns about the process of decentralisation of wage setting that has taken place in the municipal sector in recent years (NO0206105F) and aims to reverse this trend. Thus, Fagforbundet will direct efforts towards having more of the wage sum negotiated at the central level. Equal pay for men and women is another area to which the new organisation will direct increased attention. Fighting involuntary part-time work, a problem which mainly affects female employees, is a further issue that Fagforbundet will place on the agenda, with the goal of a universal legal right to full-time employment.

Developments in public welfare services will also be important for the new union in the years to come. The present government has long called for an increased use of competitive tendering for services provided by municipalities and counties (NO0202103F). Fagforbundet's aim is to become 'a powerful counterweight in the battle against competitive tendering and privatisation'. The rationale behind its opposition is the view that competitive tendering leads to both poorer services for users and poorer working conditions for employees.

Fagforbundet has affiliated provisionally to LO (NKF was previously a member, while NHS was independent), and this affiliation was not presented as an issue for decision at the founding congress. A final decision concerning LO membership will most probably be taken at the new union’s first national congress in 2005. The leadership, however, was given the authority to negotiate continued membership of LO, but also to opt out if the negotiations failed. There has for some time been significant disagreement within LO about which of its member unions should organise employees in privatised or deregulated public enterprises. Fagforbundet worries that it will lose members in connection with privatisation if the present LO regulations are maintained. Thus the issue of LO membership is closely connected to whether or not the new union retains the right to organise these groups (NO0304102F).

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