Increased holidays a central demand in spring 2000 bargaining round

More holiday and extra funds for skills and training development are set to be central issues on the agenda when collective bargaining commences in the Norwegian private sector in March 2000. The negotiations will be conducted at the level of the central confederations.

February 2000 saw several Norwegian trade union confederations adopting their demands for the pay settlements due in spring 2000 (NO0002176N). Detailed lists of demands will not be made available until negotiations between the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge, LO) and the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (Næringslivets Hovedorganisasjon, NHO) begin in March 2000, but it is already evident that the negotiations will be marked by moderate nominal wage demands, a demand for increased holidays, and the setting aside of funds for the continuing reform of skills and training ("competence") (NO9804161F).

LO's general council meeting

The largest trade union confederation, LO, held its general council meeting on 8 February 2000, at which the guiding principles for the 2000 wage settlements were established, with regard to both the level at which bargaining will take place and the type of demands:

  • LO's demands do not include concrete wage increase figures, but certain guidelines are given concerning priorities. The emphasis is on general increases in purchasing power, special increases for low-wage groups, equal pay, and improved rewards for LO members with a higher education - especially among female-dominated occupational groups;
  • LO wants a continuation of the reform of continuing and vocational training, with funds instituted at the branch level;
  • LO seeks the introduction of a fifth week of annual holiday, which basically means an annual working time reduction of four days or 30 hours. Individual employees themselves should be given the responsibility for deciding how this extra time off is utilised - eg taken as an uninterrupted period of time off, or distributed over the year, or saved up over an extended period of two (or more) years; and
  • LO underlines the importance of all trade unions complying with the requirement for moderation in the wage settlement, in order to maintain a sufficient basis for the current cooperative venture on incomes policy (NO0001174F). It also assumes that there will be no unequal treatment of the various bargaining areas by the employers or the government. LO further stresses the maintenance of existing pension schemes, and the importance of governmental contributions to further development of the skills and training reform.

The wage settlement in the private sector will be negotiated at confederation level, which means that all agreements between LO member unions and NHO-affiliated employers' associations will be negotiated together, and that a joint referendum on the outcome will be carried out among the members concerned. The authority to decide whether or not LO/NHO agreements are to be negotiated jointly or independently and individually, has been a long-standing prerogative of LO.

YS main board meeting

The main board of the Confederation of Vocational Unions (Yrkesorganisasjonenes Sentralforbund, YS) adopted its demands for the forthcoming wage settlements on 9 February 2000. YS want to see a growth in real wages for all occupational and incomes groups, and is concerned that the levelling of incomes between men and women in the municipal sector seems to have come to a halt. Furthermore, YS, unlike LO, wants to see some public sector groups receiving wage increases beyond the general real wage growth, funded by governmental subsidies. On the other hand, YS also wants to see an increase in holiday entitlements and the establishment of a scheme for financing the skills and training reform.

Other trade unions

LO and YS are the only trade union organisations which have adopted common guidelines for negotiations, embracing all sectors and member unions. Most other organisations have yet to establish their demands. It is nevertheless evident that many organisations, especially those representing academically qualified groups in the public sector, expect wage increases that are far higher than allowed for by the economic framework agreed by the social partners prior to the settlement (NO0002176N). Even LO-affiliated unions organising employees with a higher education have stressed the need to give these groups priority in the wage settlements. Furthermore, there is no consensus about the extent to which the issue of increased holiday should take priority over general wage increases. Many groups of employees with a higher education will most probably prefer wage increases above increased holiday entitlement.

Employers' views

NHO's director general, Finn Bergesen jr, state that the 2000 wage settlement is likely to become a complicated affair, because of the number of demands (wages, holidays and skills and training reform) put on the agenda by LO. Mr Bergesen is nevertheless satisfied with LO's commitment to moderate wage growth in order to safeguard the competitiveness of Norwegian industry. NHO has on several occasions strongly opposed working time reductions, on the grounds that the Norwegian economy will witness continuous staff shortages in the years to come.

Commentary

There are indications that the 2000 wage settlement will be complicated, and that disputes are most likely to occur in the public sector.

In the private sector, both sides seem to be favourably inclined towards a moderate settlement, especially with regard to nominal wage increases, based among other factors on a common interest in safeguarding Norwegian industry's competitiveness. This is reinforced by the difficult situation observed in some parts of Norwegian manufacturing industry (NO0001175F). There is also reason to believe that the demand for working time reductions (through extra leave) is of such importance to LO that it will be accepted by employers in order to avoid disputes. The employee side will have to focus its efforts on influencing the working time reform, with regard to both its content and its development. NHO would rather see more flexibility in relation to existing working time arrangements, which is an issue that may be put on the employer side's list of demands when the NHO central board meets on 23 February 2000. The most pressing issue in relation to the skills and training reform is the extent to which it is possible to set aside funds (drawn from the total wage "pot") for the purpose of educational leave. The fact that LO now wants to see branch-level funds, and not joint funds for the whole of the LO/NHO bargaining area, may make it easier to agree on some sort of scheme for continuing and vocational training.

The chances of reaching a private sector agreement are high, which is not the case in the public sector. There is significant disagreement over the distribution of wage increases, which is set to continue, and the principle of private sector negotiations setting precedents in the bargaining round may once again be challenged. Teachers, nurses and other occupational groups in the public sector have high expectations for the 2000 settlement, and want to give priority to wages rather than other benefits. Many influential politicians, as well as the public at large, are sympathetic to their demands, and they have a strong case on grounds of persistently poor wage developments and significant recruitment difficulties. Yet allowing these groups more favourable increases than others will contribute to making negotiations in the public sector more complicated, as well as being damaging to future cooperation on incomes policy. Finally, the new union confederation for academically qualified staff, Akademikerne, has signalled a wish to accept the economic framework set prior to the settlement, but only in so far as its member groups are guaranteed wage increase proportionate to the limits set by the framework. This demand will also contribute to making the forthcoming public sector negotiations a complicated affair. (Kristine Nergaard, FAFO Institute for Applied Social Science)

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