Norway: Latest working life developments – Q1 2018

A report on occupational fatalities in Norway, parliament’s request for a new regulation on temporary employment agencies, pensions in the public sector and a commission report on whistleblowing are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Norway in the first quarter of 2018.

Foreign workers more prone to occupational fatalities 

In February 2018, the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority released a report that provides a comprehensive overview of issues related to occupation fatalities. The report was based on the analysis of 234 occupational fatalities that occurred during 20112016, with 55 of these involving foreign workers. The data showed that while the total number of occupational fatalities in Norway had decreased over a long-term perspective, the proportion among foreign workers had increased. For the entire period, foreign workers account for 24% of the fatalities; however, this proportion has increased in latter years, and in 2016, it was 40% of all the fatalities. This is mainly explained by the decreasing number of occupational fatalities among native Norwegians. Overall, the risk was 1.4 times higher for foreign workers than for native Norwegian workers and was particularly high among workers from Eastern European EU countries (3.2 times higher).

Because of the limited availability of data, it was not possible to carry out an in-depth analysis of the risk profiles of different groups of workers. However, some possible explanations as to why foreign workers were at greater risk of an occupational fatality were discussed. These included differences in safety cultures and the understanding of risk, and the fact that foreign workers tend to perform more hazardous work than their native Norwegian colleagues. In addition, short-term work contracts and temporary employment were recognised as recurring factors among the occupational fatalities involving foreign workers of all ages. 

Petition for new regulation on temporary employment agencies

In March 2018, the Norwegian parliament handled several proposals from the opposition to amend the legislation on temporary employment agencies. After a protest from the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), the parliament voted down one proposal to ban the use of temporary employment and another to ban the use of temporary services from employment agencies. However, a majority in the parliament supported a proposal that asked the government for a bill amending the Working Environment Act in order to:

  • secure a clear definition of permanent employment;
  • ensure the predictability of work and income by avoiding on-call contracts;
  • limit the use of staffing agencies by restricting such use to companies bound by a nationwide collective agreement with a larger union;
  • give the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority the legal authority to inspect companies and impose sanctions in the event of illegal staffing agency use.

The unions regarded the parliamentary resolution as a victory in the fight against the excessive use of temporary employment agencies. Employers appreciated that the parliament had not abandoned employment agencies. The NHO believes that Norwegian businesses need to have access to employment agencies in order to keep up with international competition, but admitted that it was important to address the challenges created by companies not complying with laws and regulations.

New collective agreement on pensions 

Since parliament laid down the principle of a new pension system in 2005, the government and social partners have negotiated over adjustments to the system on several occasions. They failed to come to an agreement in 2008 and 2009, leading to a period of uncertainty as time undermined old obligations.

A new round of negotiations in Q1 of 2018 produced concrete results. The new agreement is based on the following principles:

  • Working longer will pay off (up to age 75);
  • From age 62 to 75, pension withdrawal will be flexible;
  • Pensions can be combined with work income without any deductions;
  • Workers who are burnt out can retire early;
  • Changing jobs between the public and private sectors will be easier;
  • All public employees will receive an occupational pension;
  • Pensions will be lifelong and adjusted according to life expectancy.

Committee releases report on whistleblowing

The Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Anniken Hauglie received a new report on whistleblowing  from the whistleblowing committee on 15 March. The committee was appointed in late 2016 to review the whistleblowing rules in the Working Environment Act of 2005. Members included representatives from the main unions and experts in jurisdiction, psychology and media.

In the report, the committee concluded that whistleblowing is of value to society. The recent #MeToo campaign showed the importance of the act, although sexual harassment was not treated as a specific topic in the report. The committee's  suggestions included:

  • ensuring that the Working Environment Act referred to constitutional rights to freedom of speech in the provision on whistleblowing;
  • providing clear legal requirements for whistleblowing procedures in businesses with at least five employees;
  • developing national guidelines to build understanding and knowledge among social partners and throughout society;
  • establishing a whistleblower ombudsman that can give advise and support in actual cases;

A majority in the commission also recommended establishing a board to handle disputes arising from whistleblowing. A minority recommended that disputes continue to be brought before a court, as they are now.

The government will now consider the proposals put forward by the committee.

Commentary

Wage negotiations in the private sector were due to end on 8 April and the results will then be subjected to a ballot. In the public sector, negotiations were scheduled to finish on 30 April. The differing views of social partners on whether the wage increase should be distributed on a central or local level is expected to create tensions.

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