International agreement on exchange of information and good working practice signed at Statoil

In June 1998, an agreement was concluded between the Norwegian oil company Statoil and national and international trade union organisations, on the exchange of information and the development of good working practice in all operations over which Statoil exercises direct control. The agreement commits Statoil to comply with the provisions of ILO Conventions that regulate employees' rights, and is applicable to Statoil's domestic as well as its international activities.

In June 1998, an agreement was concluded between the Norwegian oil company, Statoil, the Norwegian Oil and Petrochemical Union (Norsk Olje og Petrokjemisk Fagforbund, NOPEF) and the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM), on the exchange of information and development of good working practice in all operations over which Statoil exercises direct control. The agreement, which was signed in Copenhagen on 7 July 1998, is the oil sector's first ever globally applicable agreement on industrial relations (according to ICEM Update No. 66, 1998). The president of NOPEF, Lars A Myhre, and the vice president of industrial relations at Statoil, Jostein Gaasemyr, are responsible for the administration of the agreement. The agreement will run for two years, after which time the it will be evaluated.

Statoil is wholly owned by the Norwegian state, and it is involved in oil exploration, as well as other activities, in a wide range of countries. The company has 19,000 employees, of whom 12,000 work in Norway. Its foreign engagements vary from operational responsibilities in oil exploitation to the running of petrol stations. Its main activities, involving Statoil directly, are located in the Scandinavian countries as well as Poland, the Baltic states and Ireland, while international activity in relation to oil and gas exploration takes the form of partnerships or co-ownerships in activities in places such as Venezuela, Azerbaijan and West Africa. NOPEF is one of several national employee organisations within the Norwegian oil sector, and is affiliated to the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge, LO). NOPEF is also a member of ICEM, which is party to the agreement.

Basic standards

The agreement states that the parties are concerned with the protection of health, safety and general well-being in working life, as well as environmental questions, and emphasises their commitment to basic human rights. As such, the agreement lays down a number of basic rights to which the parties commit themselves:

  • the right of every employee to be represented by a union of his or her own choice and the basic trade union rights as defined by International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions Nos. 87 (freedom of association) and 98 (right to organise and to bargain collectively);
  • to employ no forced or bonded labour, as proscribed in ILO Conventions Nos. 29 and 105;
  • to employ no child labour, as proscribed by ILO Conventions 138;
  • to exercise equality of opportunity and treatment in employment, as required by ILO Conventions 100 and 111;
  • to pay fair wages and benefits according to good industry standards in the country concerned; and
  • to provide a safe working environment, deploying common "best practice" standards.

Statoil must refrain from dismissing or in any other way discriminating against union representatives, or other employees who contribute to "providing information relevant to the observance and implementation" of the agreement. An addition to the agreement provides that "all union delegates must agree to respect the commercial confidentiality of information disclosed in the exercise of their duties". Union representatives will have access to all the information needed and whatever aid necessary, to carry out their responsibilities and duties properly . However, if union representatives need time off work to pursue their union assignments, this is a matter which must be agreed at local level.

Implementation of the agreement

The agreement provides for annual meetings between union representatives from NOPEF/ICEM and the relevant Statoil managers. At these meetings, issues concerning the agreement will be discussed, with the intention of exchanging viewpoints and facilitating cooperation on the further development of good working practices. Other issues may also be discussed, including: Statoil's financial and economic position; personnel policies; training; health, safety and environmental questions that concern the whole company; and issues concerned with the exercise of union rights.

The parties are also committed to contributing to training programmes. This includes include undertaking the training of union representatives from countries where Statoil operates, and management training programmes within Statoil.

Commentary

The agreement was established on the initiative of NOPEF, in an attempt to safeguard the trade union rights of employees in Statoil companies abroad. The agreement ensures that NOPEF is kept up to date with Statoil's various engagements, and provides an arena for the exchange of information on the situation of unionised employees and their union rights, in those countries and companies in which Statoil is directly involved. The recognition in the agreement of the role played by the ICEM is also regarded as important.

Statoil's increasing activities abroad have provided NOPEF with a reason to direct its attention to the safeguarding of trade union rights. These activities are mainly located in countries outside Europe, thus making other existing provisions, such as the EU Directive on European Works Councils, insufficient to meet this need. At the same time, however, the agreement is also a reflection of Statoil's wish to be seen to be acting decently in its development activities abroad. It is argued that the agreement confirms Statoil's respect for human rights and thus its respect for basic trade union rights.

The Statoil/NOPEF/ICEM agreement is the first publicly-known deal of this kind in Norway. However, there are cases of Norwegian companies establishing internal posts, whose tasks include making sure that the company's foreign activities take human rights and good working practice seriously. The Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (Næringslivets Hovedorganisasjon, NHO), the largest employers' confederation in the private sector, has in recent years emphasised the importance of Norwegian companies complying with ethical standards in their international activities. NHO has published a guide to human rights for the use of companies who operate abroad, and encourages its member companies to take into account consciously questions concerning human rights and the environment. NHO points out that trade and industry have an clear responsibility to follow the same business principles and respect for human rights abroad as they do at home. By doing so, Norwegian companies may in this way contribute to the development of human rights in the countries concerned. (Kristine Nergaard, FAFO Institute for Applied Social Science)

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