Norway: Latest developments in working life Q1 2019
A Supreme Court verdict on the justification of dismissals, concern over the incidence of violence at work and violations of the regulations on fixed-term employment are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Poland in the first quarter of 2019.
Supreme Court rules on justification of dismissals
The Working Environment Act requires dismissals to be fair and justifiable. Legal battles over dismissals due to redundancies generally relate to justification, with seniority often playing a part.
In February 2019, the Supreme Court of Norway passed a judgement in a case over dismissals due to lack of incoming orders to the company. The employees claimed that the length of time spent working at the company should be the starting point for justification, whereas the employer put the emphasis on competence and skills during the dismissals.
The case had previously been heard in the lower court and the Supreme Court disagreed with some of the conclusions that were drawn. The Supreme Court stated that it was wrong to say that the length of time an employee has worked at a company should be the starting point for workforce reduction, and argued that it was possible to deviate from the seniority principle when there was a clear reason to do so.
Despite this, the employer lost the case, as the company had not sufficiently documented its assessment of the competence and skills of the employees in question. This made it impossible for a court to evaluate if the dismissals were fair and justified,
After the verdict, the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO) and the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) claimed that the judgement supported their view (which is that the length of working time should inform workforce reduction). 
- Norwegian Supreme Court: Judgement of 28 February 2019, HR-2019-424-A
Concern about levels of workplace violence
Physical violence and threats of violence are risk factors in many occupations and industries. They are often associated with long-term sick leave and high costs for society, businesses and the individuals involved. Female employees are particularly at risk, and there has been a growing concern nationally for teachers.
The National Institute of Occupational Health (STAMI) has a national surveillance system for working environments and occupational health, which shows that almost 15% of primary school teachers report violence or threats at work (mainly from students or others not employed at the school). This is more than double the national average for all employees in all occupations (6.6%).
In 2016, the Working Environment Act was amended to address the issue of violence and threats of violence in the workplace.  A recent survey of almost 100 primary and secondary schools by the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority shows that 90% of schools need better systems for identifying and assessing the risk of violence and threats.  The increasing concern for teachers and the identification of inadequate systems for managing violence and threats in schools has led the Ministry of Education and Research to set up a working group and a network of municipalities. This group and network will share experiences and disseminate knowledge about preventing violence and threats in schools.
- Ministry of Education and Research: Inviterer kommuner til å ta lederrolle mot vold i skolen
Violations of the law on fixed-term employment
A recent study by the Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research looks at violations of the regulations on fixed-term employment. While the use of permanent contracts is the main rule, temporary contracts can be used in specific circumstances such as when an employee is a substitute for another person (e.g. due to maternity leave), a trainee or affected by the nature of the work (e.g. seasonal work or time-limited work). The study aims to measure how extensively the regulation is being breached.
Based on data from the EU Labour Force Surveys, the researchers tried to filter out employees with temporary employment that could not be classified under one of the exemptions. The results indicate that between 23% and 35% of those who report being hired on a temporary basis do not fall into any of the exemption categories, depending on whether the researchers used a lenient or strict classification. This suggests that between 40,000 and 65,000 people working in the private, municipal and hospital sectors are on temporary employment contracts that have no clear legal basis. 
Norway ranks sixth for union density
Union density in Norway seems to have stabilised at 49% over the last decade. A detailed report on union density and collective bargaining coverage released in 2018 compared Norway with other Nordic countries and figures collected by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  According to the report, Norway ranks sixth for union density, but only twelfth for collective bargaining coverage. This suggests that there may be an increasing number of discussions about extension mechanisms in the next few years.
Sectoral wage bargaining kicks off
Sectoral collective agreements in Norway are negotiated on a two-year basis. As 2019 is the second year of a two-year period, wages alone will be negotiated this year. The NHO and the LO reached an agreement with the help of a mediator on 31 March and the expected annual wage increase is 3.2%. Negotiations in the public sector are expected to start in April, followed by negotiations in the healthcare sector in May.