Foreign doctors exempted from ban on private employment agencies

In January 1998, it was announced that the exchange of qualified doctors from abroad has been exempted from the general ban on private labour exchange in Norway's National Employment Act, but this arrangement will not be extended to other areas of the health service. It has yet to be decided whether to lift the general bans on private labour exchanges and employee secondments, but a public committee, involving the major social partners, will be set up to look at the issue in depth.

The Minister of Labour and Government Administration, Eldbjørg Løwer, in a press conference on the 23 January 1998, informed the media of her decision to permit the recruitment of foreign qualified doctors through private labour exchanges, in addition to the recruitment carried out by the existing public labour exchanges.

The Government also decided to reject an appeal made by four private temporary employment agencies to recruit health personnel in general. However, temporary exemptions were given to two Danish agencies because of the situation at the hospitals to which they were to provide staff. The decision was justified on the grounds that allowing for private recruitment of health personnel would lead to wage drift, and the implications would place a heavy economic burden on those sectors of the health service which were in need of temporary staff.

According to the National Employment Act, private employment agencies are banned, but there are some exempted areas in which private enterprises may operate (NO9801144F). The decision to allow for such exemptions rests on an assessment of the area of activity concerned. The health service is one of the areas of the Norwegian labour market in which there is a pressing need for qualified personnel.

In a recent report by the standing committee on municipal affairs, a majority of the members argued that the general ban on recruitment through private employment agencies should not yet be lifted. The committee decided against a proposal put forward by the Conservative Party (Høyre), which in effect would liberalise the present legal framework on private employment agencies. Another proposal suggesting the creation of a state-owned temporary employment agency was also rejected. The committee's report, which was made public on 5 February 1998, concludes that questions concerning private employment agencies are highly complex, and that the issue should not be considered without further deliberation. The most important question to be looked at is how to safeguard the rights of employees, and no further work will be done without the participation of the social partners. The committee also recognises the importance and impact of the 1997 ILO Convention on private employment agencies (C181), according to which private employment agencies should be legalised. Norway has signed this convention, but it has yet to be ratified. The Minister of Labour and Government Administration, following the committee's recommendations, has decided to set up a public committee to look at the issue, and all the major social partners have agreed to take part. The committee is expected to finish its work by the end of May 1998.

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