Proposals to improve the quality of working life

In August 2011, the Norwegian government submitted a white paper on working conditions, work environment and safety to parliament (Stortinget). The paper provides a thorough depiction of the situation in Norway and outlines a number of measures needed to improve conditions for workers. These include the prevention of involuntary part-time work, and the promotion of decent wages and working conditions in public contracts.

Background

A white paper entitled ‘Shared responsibility for a good and decent working life’ (in Norwegian) was presented at the end of August 2011 to the Norwegian parliament. It demonstrates that while working conditions are good for the vast majority of Norwegian workers, two challenges have to be tackled:

  • some industries are characterised by unacceptably poor working conditions;
  • several sectors have high levels of absenteeism and a higher than average number of former employees living on disability benefits after becoming disabled while working.

The government says it intends to meet these challenges by drawing up appropriate measures in cooperation with social partners and by developing industry-level cooperation.

Cooperation and participation

The government aims to strengthen both bipartite and tripartite cooperation. Although companies are legally obliged to establish arrangements for co-determination in the workplace, it is clear that such arrangements are not always widespread. The government proposes to allow such structures to be established at corporate or group level if group management and employees agree.

The government is also considering obliging employers to ask staff whether they want to be represented on the company board, when the conditions for such representation are present.

It will also discuss extending health and safety responsibilities for corporations and franchise operations. In both corporations and franchises, the parent company or franchisor influences the operations of the subsidiary or franchisee. The government suggests this might justify making the parent company or franchisor responsible for some aspects of health and safety in the subsidiary or franchisee.

Labour Inspectorate’s competence strengthened

The government also proposes to give the Labour Inspectorate supervisory competence under the administrative provision on wages and working conditions in public contracts. The administrative provision, through which the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 94 is implemented for both central and local government contracts, is not subject to any supervisory authority.

To ensure public authorities comply with the provisions of the ILO convention when awarding public contracts, the government wants to give the Labour Inspectorate powers to monitor and control them. There will be a duty to include the stipulation in contracts that employees of all service providers and contractors working in Norway should have ‘Norwegian’ wage and working conditions.

The Labour Inspectorate has also learned that some industries and businesses are overrepresented in statistics when it comes to violations of the Working Environment Act (2.9Mb PDF). To ensure effective sanctions against these companies, the government is considering giving the inspectorate powers to impose fines for such offences. It is also considering whether the penalty level for violations needs to be raised.

Involuntary part-time work

The government has also said it will launch a major effort to combat involuntary part-time work.

Currently, part-time employees have the right to request longer working hours before their employer appoints new staff. This pre-emptive right, however, applies only when it does not pose a significant inconvenience to the company such as, for example, leading to a situation where changes to work rotas generate a need for more positions with shorter working hours.

The government will now evaluate how companies interpret the term ‘significant inconvenience’ in practice.

It will also invite submissions on a proposal to oblige employers to consult with part-time workers and to give employees who are regularly working overtime the right to work longer hours.

Agreements that derogate from working time regulations

Working time has also been on the agenda recently. Under the Working Environment Act, trade unions with more than 10,000 members may conclude collective agreements that depart from the working time regulations of the act. As the employer side sees it, this gives unions the power to veto decisions on working time arrangements. This relates particularly to situations where trade unions at central level can disallow arrangements that have been reached at company level.

The government believes this arrangement ensures that health, welfare and longer-term interests are taken into account, and that agreements are not established as a result of pressure from the employer or the short-term wishes of individual workers. The government will not recommend any changes at this point, but will closely monitor the practices of the social partners when dealing with agreements that derogate from the regulations of the Working Environment Act.

It will, however, consider placing a duty on social partner organisations to develop public statistics on the prevalence of such agreements. The government also announced that it will reevaluate the current working time arrangements.

Kristin Alsos, Fafo

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