Norway: Latest working life developments – Q1 2017
Arriving at a wage agreement for the private sector, proposals to facilitate evening work and to increase protection for whistle-blowers, and a review of the country's Occupational Health Service are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Norway in the first quarter of 2017.
2017 wage settlement
This year is second year of the two-yearly re-negotiations of collective agreements in industry, meaning that only wages will be negotiated this year. In line with the bargaining model, the two peak-level confederations, the Confederation for Norwegian Enterprises (NHO) and the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) started the process of reaching an agreement acceptable to the manufacturing industry, which faces international competition. An agreement was reached an agreement on 14 March, with an expected annual wage increase of 2.4%.
In March, the Norwegian Technical Calculation Committee for Wage Settlements (TBU) released its report with the final calculations of the wage increases for 2016. It showed that the manufacturing industry had a wage increase of 1.9% last year. This was below the 2.4% anticipated by the parties when they reached their agreement in 2016. In retail the increase was 2.5%, the same as in the municipal sector, while state employees ended up with 2.4%.
Although most negotiations in the private sector have ended, the bargaining parties in the public sector will start their negotiations in the second quarter of 2017.
This bargaining round was the last one to be led by the LO President Gerd Kristiansen. A new president will be elected at the union’s congress in May 2017.
The government has proposed amending the Working Environment Act in order to make it possible to work between 21:00 and 23:00. The proposal is a follow-up to an expert commission on working time that reported in January 2016. The act defines night work as starting from 21:00 and makes it illegal to work later than this unless the nature of the work makes it necessary. The proposal aims to make it easier for employees to split their working days into two, contributing to a better work–life balance. This could include, for instance, employees who have to leave work early to pick up their children from pre-school and would prefer to do the rest of their work in the evening.
The proposal stipulates that any agreement to work after 21.00 should be concluded only at the request of the employee and with agreement of the employer. The consultation round of the proposal ended in January. While the proposal has been welcomed by employer organisations, trade unions are concerned that working nights could have negative health effects. They have also raised concerns that this will put pressure on reducing wage costs on evening work. However, the government decided to send the bill to parliament at the end of March.
- temporary agency workers should be protected by the same regulations as employees in the hiring company;
- companies with 10 or more employees should establish whistle-blowing guidelines;
- the names of whistle-blowers contacting governmental authorities should always be kept secret.
Review of the occupational health service
Businesses with high-risk jobs are required by the law to provide their workers with access to authorised occupational health services. The Occupational Health Service (OHS) in Norway is staffed by occupational health experts such as physicians, nurses and industrial hygienists. The OHS is an important tool in preventing work-related health effects and occupational injuries, but the service is resource-intensive and costly for businesses. Therefore, the Ministry of Labour and Social affairs has set up a group of independent experts to review the purpose and content of this service, and to advise the Norwegian government. The expert group’s proposal and recommendations will be discussed with the social partners before further work is decided.
The regulatory changes are expected to be debated in parliament before the summer break. During the second quarter, LO will hold its congress (held every fourth year). Apart from electing a new president, it is expected that the Norwegian affiliation to the EU as well as initiatives to restrict the hiring of temporary agency workers will be high on the agenda.