Norway: Provisions of Working Environment Act come into effect

New provisions in the Working Environment Act came into force on 1 July 2015, with changes affecting maximum penalties, the collective right to sue and regulations concerning temporary employment, working time and age limits.

The amendments, passed by parliament in March 2015, cover a liberalisation of regulations on temporary work and working time. The age limit for the right to work is increased, and the collective right of unions to sue for unlawful use of temporary agency workers is abandoned. Maximum penalties for various infringements of the Working Environment Act are increased. There are also new regulations on whistle-blowing.

The new provisions allow employers to use temporary employment for a period of up to 12 months. This is an innovation in Norwegian employment law, as the use of temporary employment until now has been limited to situations where the employer can demonstrate a certain legal basis for it. However, the share of temporary employees cannot exceed 15% of the total staff in a business, and a temporary contract cannot be succeeded by another temporary contract for the same tasks. Employees can be made permanent after three years of temporary employment under these rules. This more flexible approach has been heavily criticised by labour organisations and the opposition parties. They claim that the new legislation is undermining employment protection and effectively replacing permanent positions with temporary ones instead of creating new jobs.

New provisions on working time introduce changes in the direction of increased flexibility. For employees with individual agreements on average calculation of working time, a standard work day can now last up to 10 hours (previously 9 hours). Local unions can agree to 12.5-hour shifts (previously 10 hours), 20 hours of overtime per week (previously 15 hours) and 50 hours of overtime per month (previously 40 hours). Yearly limits are unchanged, however. Employees can also work more consecutive days, with longer breaks in between these periods. The amendments also include somewhat relaxed regulations concerning work on Sundays and public holidays. With an agreement on average calculation of working time, employees can now work three Sundays in a row. The government proposed five consecutive Sundays as the limit, but did not obtain a majority for this proposal. 

The Act now states that an employer cannot end an employment contract due to age before the employee turns 72 (previously 70), as a general rule. Company guidelines cannot specify an age limit lower than 70 years (previously 67). If health and safety requires, the age limit can be set lower. 

The maximum penalty for infringements of the Act is increased from three months' imprisonment to one years' imprisonment, and from two to three years' imprisonment under aggravating circumstances. The General Application Act is amended so that the maximum penalty for breach of a generally applicable collective agreement (such as minimum wage requirements) is now one years' imprisonment, and three years for serious infringements. Previously, such breaches could only be fined.

The amendments to the Working Environment Act have been highly controversial. The three peak-level union confederations LO, YS and UNIO organised a general strike on the 28 January in protest, which was the first general strike by union confederations since 1998. Opposition parties have also been highly critical, and the Labour Party (Ap) has vowed to repeal several of the changes if elected into government.

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