Membership growth and increased rivalry between employer organisations

The memberships of the largest employer and industry organisations in Norway are increasing. At the same time, there are indications of increased rivalry between organisations in late 1997.

Increased rivalry between employer organisations

Traditionally there has not been a great deal of rivalry over members between the different employers' organisations in Norway, and in most cases the boundaries between the largest organisations have been clear. Recently, however, there have been indications that in the future we will see increased rivalry over members. The two largest employers' organisations, the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (NHO) and the Commercial Employers' Association (HSH), both have ambitions of continued membership growth.

The dominant employers' confederation in Norway is NHO, which is virtually the only organisation which organises firms in industry and construction. HSH has the vast majority of its members within the retail and wholesale trade. However, in addition, both confederations organise firms from different parts of the services sector. Amongst NHO's member firms, just under half may be found within the services sector - in the craft trade, travel and tourism industry and transport. In addition to the different types of retail and wholesale trade, HSH organises travel agencies, temporary agencies, computer companies and undertakers.

So far membership rivalry has mainly taken place in small sectors which are not central to the confederations, ie in firms which provide a combination of services - such as car or petrol dealers with their own repair workshop. The fact that both employer organisations aim to increase their membership in the future, may mean that the struggle for membership and coverage becomes fiercer. In the future we can expect increased competition in both the traditionally well-organised areas and in parts of the services sector where the organisation rate amongst employers is low. One illustration of increased competition is that both NHO and HSH were interested in recruiting the newly established organisation for petrol dealers, which in December 1997 decided to affiliate to the NHO (see Næringslivets Ukeavis, 28 November 1997). The petrol dealers had previously been members of a branch association affiliated to NHO, and this has probably been a contributing factor to their choice of confederation.

Another type of firm which will have to choose between alternative employer organisations in the future are those which become independent or privatised. Today, for example, power plants are to be found both within NHO and the Norwegian Association of Local Authorities (KS). The same applies for the municipally-owned bus companies, which are organised as limited companies. In the future, the Norwegian Association of Public Owned Enterprises (NAVO) could also be seen as an alternative organisation for the power plants and some other companies which otherwise would have regarded NHO (or KS) as their only alternative.

Growth and concentration within NHO and HSH

The largest employers' organisation in Norway is the NHO, which aims to have 20,000 member firms by the year 2000. NHO was established in 1989 as a result of a merger between the Norwegian Employers' Confederation (NAF) and two industry and craft organisations, and today is a joint employer and industry organisation. In autumn 1997 NHO had 14,500 members and had increased its membership by around 1,000 new member firms during 1997.

Within NHO, the branch associations are merging and becoming larger units, as part of a planned development with the long-term objective of reducing the number of branch associations (NO9703107N).The next major merger will come within the construction sector, where three branch associations have decided to combine into one, which will be established during January 1998, and will become NHO's third largest association.

HSH permits branch associations to affiliate jointly to the confederation, and within the past year has recruited several branch associations as members, including a large organisation covering grocery shops. NHO has also recruited new members by including independent organisations as members in recent years.

Commentary

The increased competition on the employers' side is a new situation for Norwegian industrial relations, where rivalry over members has largely taken place on the employee side. For the branches which are already affiliated to one of the large employer organisations, the increased competition will probably be restricted to smaller areas in the "grey zone" between the major confederations. However, both of the major employer organisations, NHO and HSH, are ambitious to grow. Rivalry may therefore be greatest within the sectors where traditionally employers have taken only a lukewarm interest in organising.

Both of the major employers' organisations in the private sector are joint employer and business organisations. So far NHO has been the dominant organisation both with regard to wage determination and in influencing economic policy. Lately, HSH has emphasised its distinction from NHO in a number of economic policy issues, and has indicated that NHO is largely the voice of industry. The merger between HSH and several branch associations within the trade sector may largely be interpreted as a move to strengthen the organisations' influence over economic policy. (Kristine Nergaard, FAFO Institute for Applied Social Science)

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