Norway: Latest working life developments – Q3 2016

A series of strikes related to the biennial renegotiation of national collective agreements, an increase in temporary employment and the changing use of occupational health services are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Norway in the third quarter of 2016.

Strikes in the petroleum, hospital and energy services

The main bargaining round in the biennial renegotiation of national collective agreements takes place this year. While many national sectoral agreements were concluded in the second quarter, a number of agreements were scheduled for the third quarter, some resulting in strikes.

Petroleum services

Leading trade union the Norwegian Union of Industry and Energy Workers (Industry Energy), which is affiliated to the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), began a major strike in September. The employer organisation, Norwegian Oil and Gas, chose to negotiate an agreement first with the smaller trade union, Norwegian Union of Energy Workers (Safe), an agreement which Industry Energy, with 10 times as many members in the same companies, found unacceptable. Industry Energy challenged the way the agreement was made in the labour court, arguing that it was a breach of the collective agreement it had signed with Norwegian Oil and Gas.

However, when Industry Energy lost the case, it called a strike that was supported by LO which claimed that the employers had chosen a strategy of bargaining with the smaller and weaker unions first, in order to put pressure on the larger unions. The strike was ended after three weeks when Industry Energy’s demands were met, resulting in changes to the remuneration system which will gradually raise the wages of many workers in the petroleum service, closer to a level of those in the oil companies.

Hospital services

The Federation of Norwegian Professional Associations (Akademikerne), which organises doctors through the Norwegian Medical Association, called a major hospital strike on 6 September in protest at the employer organisation Spekter’s alleged plan of unilaterally determining working hours using individual work schedules. Akademikerne also demanded that the use of work schedules was incorporated into the collective agreement to protect doctors against hazardous working times. 

Other trade unions have voiced concerns that the strategy of replacing collective schedules with individual ones could, if successful, spread to other sectors. The five-week strike was ended by compulsory arbitration after being ruled a threat to patient safety. However, the conflict over working time remains, as the existing collective agreement is unchanged on this point.

Energy services

The Electricians and IT Workers’ Union (EL og IT Forbundet) went on strike at the end of September. The union is in conflict with the municipal employers’ organisation KS Bedrift over the planned reduction of rest time for energy workers after emergency or standby shifts .

Increase in temporary employment

New provisions in the Working Environment Act came into effect on 1 July 2015, including new regulations concerning temporary employment. One year later, the proportion of temporary employees had risen from below 8% to 8.8%, according to Statistics Norway. The second quarter of 2016 was the third consecutive quarter with an increase.

The changing use of occupational health services

The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs commissioned a report by independent research organisation, SINTEF, into the effects of changes in occupational health services (OHS) in Norway over the past few years. The evaluation (PDF) looked at how the changes in the services affected their quality and expertise, and how companies use them. The study shows that most companies feel that the OHS contributes to the development of good health and safety procedures, and to strengthening efforts to create healthy and safe working conditions.

Another important finding was that there is a relatively good match between the enterprises’ need for support on legislative issues, and to what extent the OHS can help with this. However, there is still a relatively widespread opinion among the OHS that their preventive work and legislation-related services could improve in some areas.

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