Norway: Latest developments in working life Q2 2019
Tripartite efforts to increase employment, developments relating to strikes and wage bargaining, an ongoing dispute in the healthcare sector, and a national initiative to reduce sickness absence are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Norway in the second quarter of 2019.
Tripartite efforts to increase employment
In March 2019, the employment committee's expert group delivered its Official Norwegian Report on measures to increase employment and reduce unnecessarily long-term benefit schemes, as part of the first mandate of the committee. The second mandate started in April, with the appointment of representatives from the social partners. In the coming year, the representatives and experts will continue discussions based on the experts’ recommendations and any further proposals.
- Government of Norway: NOU 2019:7 Arbeid og inntektssikring – Tiltak for økt sysselsetting
ILO publishes report on tripartism in Norway
In June 2019, the International Labour Organization (ILO) celebrated its 100th anniversary. To coincide with this event, the ILO published a report on tripartism in Norway. The report describes the emergence of tripartite cooperation and addresses the institutions facilitating such cooperation and how tripartite cooperation can help Norway face the challenges of the changing world.
SAS pilots strike resolved
On 26 April, around 1,500 Danish, Norwegian and Swedish pilots from Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) went on strike over negotiations about the renewal of a collective agreement. With the help of a mediator, the parties managed to conclude an agreement on 2 May for a 10.5% wage increase over three years and an improved agreement on working time rotation.
Wage bargaining in public and private sectors.
In the public sector, wage bargaining resulted in agreements within the framework of the expected annual 3.2% wage increase. In the private sector, the parties used mediation in order to reach an agreement on amendments to the contractual early retirement scheme.
Dispute in healthcare sector becomes political
A strike began at state-owned hospitals on 29 May, involving 670 members of the healthcare and welfare trade unions. Fagforbundet and FO (from the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO)), and Delta and Parat (from the Confederation of Vocational Unions (YS)) represent more than 30,000 workers in public-owned hospitals, and were claiming full pension rights for all part-time workers in line with the arrangement in the municipal sector.
The government stepped in on 23 June and called off the strike. The rationale for the government’s intervention was that if the strike action were to escalate (as had been announced), it would endanger life and health. Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Anniken Hauglie found it regrettable that the government had been required to intervene. The dispute will now be referred to compulsory arbitration.
The parliamentary opposition supports the unions’ claim for pension rights, and the topic has become an issue in the political debate. In mid-June, the opposition supported a proposition from the Red Party to ‘ensure that all nurses and pharmacy employees, as well as all employees of the state, are covered by the occupational pension scheme regardless of the percentage of the full-time equivalent’. The Labour Party promised to honour the claim if the next election brought them into office.
Joint initiative to reduce sickness absence
In late 2018, the government, trade unions and employer organisations signed a new letter of intent on a more inclusive working life. This joint initiative aims to reduce sickness absence and withdrawal from working life by addressing conditions in the workplace, and at industry and sector level.
The national initiative has gained greater momentum by targeting seven key sectors: hospitals, preschools, nursing homes, suppliers to the petroleum industry, the food industry, passenger transport and construction. These sectors were selected from both the public and the private sector. Other criteria included the potential to reduce sick leave and/or withdrawal and exposure to restructuring. The sectoral programme targets almost 700,000 workers. A review of the consequences and an evaluation of the measures will be initiated in the future, in order to assess the impact of the programme on the overall national goals.
Government responds to opinion on Norway’s reporting obligations
In Q2 2019, the government prepared a response to the Reasoned Opinion released by the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) in 2018. In this opinion, the ESA stated that Norway’s reporting obligations in cases where non-resident contractors are hired to perform activities in the country breached Article 36 of the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EAA Agreement).
The government’s response argued that
this restriction [the reporting obligation] is justified by both the need to ensure the effectiveness of fiscal supervision and tax collection, as well as the prevention of tax fraud. Furthermore, that restriction is both suitable and necessary to attain the said objectives.
The LO wrote to the ESA in May to express its support for the stance of the Norwegian government. For the social partners, efficient and accurate tax collection is necessary in order to ensure equal competition and prevent work-related crime. The LO also fears that the legitimacy of the EEA Agreement will be undermined if the just taxation of non-resident service providers is hampered.