New measures aim to combat social dumping

In May 2007, the Norwegian government announced the introduction of new measures that aim to combat social dumping. In sectors where collective agreements are made generally binding, the employer will be obliged to ensure that the wages and working conditions of employees in subcontracting companies are in accordance with the particular collective agreement. Although the trade unions have expressed their support for the measures, the employers are opposed to their introduction.

Background

The number of workers from the new EU Member States entering the Norwegian labour market still poses a significant regulatory challenge to the countryaeuroTMs national authorities. In May 2007, the Norwegian government put forward new measures to the parliament aimed at combating social dumping (Government measures in Norwegian). The most recent initiative in this area follows measures implemented last year (NO0609039I) and includes amendments to the Act relating to the general application of wage agreements (Lov om allmenngjA¸ring av tariffavtaler mv) and the Act relating to worker protection and working environment (ArbeidsmiljA¸loven, AML). While the package of initiatives received some support from the trade unions, it has been opposed by the employers.

Provisions of new measures

Under the proposed new bill, companies hiring the services of another organisation will have a duty to ensure that the subcontractor complies with the terms made generally applicable in the collective agreement. To date, generally applicable agreements are mainly found in the construction sector. The rationale behind the move to vest more responsibility in the company subcontracting the services of another company is expounded in legislation. The law contends that it is reasonable to extend the responsibilities of a company towards its subcontractors, since the former uses the services of the latter which pays its workers less than it is obliged to. This amendment will, according to the government, contribute to improved protection for employees, ensuring that they receive wages in accordance with the generally applicable collective agreements. The company subcontracting services will not share joint liability with the employer providing these services, but must fulfil its legal duties. The extent to which it is the commissioning companyaeuroTMs duty to ensure that the new regulations are observed has yet to be clarified.

Furthermore, the shop steward of the company subcontracting services will have the right to inspect the wages and working conditions of both the employees within their own company and those of the subcontractor. This right of inspection is only applicable when the work carried out is covered by a generally applicable collective agreement, and when the shop steward represents the trade union party to the collective agreement. If these conditions are met, the shop steward can exercise his or her right towards all companies in the supply chain aeuro" in other words, not only in relation to those employees directly hired by the shop stewardaeuroTMs own company, but also those hired by the companyaeuroTMs subcontractors. Shop stewards are bound to secrecy with respect to information gained from the employers. However, they may relay this information to the public authorities, or confront the company that has breached the legislation.

Reaction of social partners

Both of these proposals were opposed outright by the employers. In their opinion, the enforcement of legislation should be the responsibility of the public authorities, and should not be carried out by private actors such as companies and shop stewards. The trade unions, on the other hand, expressed their support for the bill, although they believed that more could be done. In their opinion, the company subcontracting activities should be held jointly responsible for breaches to generally applicable collective agreements.

Further provisions

In addition, the government has announced an administrative provision aimed at more effective monitoring of the activities of temporary work agencies. When the new provisions come into force, all temporary work agencies must secure an official authorisation before they can hire out employees. Some minor amendments have also been proposed in relation to a companyaeuroTMs obligation to enter into an agreement with the shop steward when hiring employees from other production companies.

The new measures introduced in these acts will be outlined in more detailed terms through administrative provisions. It is unlikely that these new regulations will be binding until the early autumn.

A new regulation regarding the use of identification cards on construction sites (in Norwegian) is also set to come into force in the autumn of 2007. The regulation, which was passed on 30 March 2007, aims to improve health and safety conditions on construction sites. Accordingly, all employees working on construction sites must be issued with a special identification (ID) card. In order to obtain this ID card, the employee must be registered in all public registers, as required by law. The ID cards will be issued by a company contracted by the government, and the system is to be fully funded by the users. Employers are to be held responsible for ensuring that employees carry this ID card, and breaches to this regulation may be deemed a criminal offence.

Kristin Alsos, Fafo

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