Figures from the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (
Næringslivets Hovedorganisasjon or NHO) show that over 530,000 working days
were lost in industrial conflict during the 1996 wage negotiations. These
figures cover only private sector companies which are members of NHO, but
nearly all industrial conflicts in 1996 took place within this area. This is
the highest number of working days lost since 1986, when Norway experienced a
major lockout in the private sector. In 1996, lawful strikes accounted for
all the lost working days, and the number of working days lost in strikes
alone (ie, excluding lock-outs) is thus the highest since the 1930s. The
major strikes all came in the private sector and among unions affiliated to
the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge, or
LO). The Government did not, as often before, intervene to stop strikes with
compulsory arbitration. Three strikes accounted for the majority of lost
working days. These came in the metal industry, the hotel and restaurant
industry and in the electrical installation industry.
In January 1997, the cement company, Blue Circle (BCC), and two of Britain's
largest trade unions, the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) and the
General Municipal and Boilermakers Union (GMB), agreed what has been
described as a "ground breaking" deal which gives a guarantee of job
security, in return for pay restraint and more flexible working arrangements.
Both the unions and the Labour Party see the agreement as a model for future
employee relations, which could go some way towards reviving the fortunes of
the British economy.
The Institute for Economics and Social Science (Wirtschafts- und
Sozialwissenschaftliches Institut, WSI) has recently published its annual
examination of the previous collective bargaining round. It paints a rather
mixed picture of 1996, a year in which collective bargaining was overshadowed
by continuing relatively poor economic performance and a further increase in
unemployment. GDP grew by only 1.4% over the year, while at the end of the
year more than 4 million people were officially registered as unemployed.
Some Portuguese sectors have been characterised by a widespread move away
from standard, regular and permanent jobs towards temporary forms of
employment, including irregular and casual work, homeworking and certain
forms of self-employment. These developments are the result of an interplay
between macroeconomic conditions, company strategy and labour legislation.
However, pressure is mounting amongst the social partners to counter further
fragmentation of standard employment statuses.
Late in 1996, Parliament passed legislation providing for changes in the
Employment Security Act that aroused the anger of the trade unions. Although
most of the new provisions apply from 1 January 1997, the most controversial
modification, in Section 2 of the Act, will not come into force until 1 July.
This will give trade unions and employers more time to adapt to the new rule
in the legislation which deals with the level of central bargaining and
For the first time since 1960, the Belgian social partners have failed to
reach an intersectoral pay agreement and have instead accepted government
imposition of measures on employment and maximum pay increases. This
development runs counter to all traditions of free collective bargaining and
the autonomy of both sides of industry. It also appears to reinforce the
trend towards sector-level bargaining, away from intersectoral or
central-level bargaining, thereby widening the disparities between strong and
In recent years pressure has mounted on all parties involved to rethink and
revise the traditional policies and practices of Greek industrial relations
as well as to promote social dialogue between employers and employees. As a
result of changing conditions, some believe that a new era in industrial
relations and social dialogue has been inaugurated in Greece.
The issue of wage flexibility as a means of promoting employment growth was
initially put forward by the ex-president of Confindustria (the most
important Italian employers' association), Luigi Abete, as a problem which
had not been adequately dealt with in the 1993 income policy agreement. CISL,
one of the three main trade union confederations, later took up the wage
flexibility issue and proposed flexibility in starting wages (the so-called
"entrance salary") as a means of tackling the extremely serious employment
crisis in some southern regions of Italy.
The majority of Norwegian wage agreements are of two years' duration, and the
current settlements will expire during 1998. However, issues relating to
remuneration will be renegotiated at central level in 1997. Most of the
agreements between LO (the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions or
Landsorganisasjonen i Norge) and NHO (the Confederation of Norwegian Business
and Industry or Næringslivets Hovedorganisasjon) in the private sector
expire on 31 March 1997, and bargaining is expected to commence in mid-March.
Agreements in the public sector expire one month later. The social partners
have not yet specified their demands, but all the central parties have held
initial bargaining conferences. In this feature, we describe the economic
climate in Norway prior to the wage negotiations, examine the provisional
demands the social partners have put forward, and comment on these demands in
the light of the existing social pact between the central labour market
parties in Norway, the so-called "Solidarity Alternative"
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