EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Telework in Norway

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Telework in Norwegian working life is predominantly regarded as a voluntary flexibility measure enabling employees to work from home. Although regulated by guidelines and to some degree collective agreements, telework has not been an item high on the social partners’ agenda. This article looks at the extent of telework in Norway and explores the steps towards aligning with the EU framework agreement on telework, concluded by the European social partners in 2002.

Definition

At present, no generally recognised definition of telework exists in the legal framework in Norway. To date, telework has not been an important topic, illustrated by the fact that the issue was hardly touched on in relation to the most recent revision of the working environment legislation in Norwegian working life (NO0304103F, NO0506102F, NO0512103N).

Telework is regulated in some collective agreements in Norway, for instance in the collective agreement between the Federation of Commercial and Service Enterprises (Handels- og Servicenæringens Hovedorganisasjon, HSH) and the Norwegian Union of Employees in Commerce and Offices (Handel og Kontor i Norge, HK). This provision on telework was agreed before negotiations started at EU level, and telework was defined as ‘income-producing work that is performed in premises geographically separated from the employer’s workplace (office address) – but where the work could be performed at the employer’s premises’. However, a cross-sectoral legally binding definition has not been defined.

Against the background of the 2002 framework agreement on telework between the EU-level social partners, the major social partner confederations in Norwegian working life have agreed on guidelines for telework (in Norwegian, 3.92Mb PDF) published in February 2006. The definition of telework set out in these guidelines is practically the same as in the EU-level framework agreement:

Telework is a form of organising and/or performing work with the following characteristics: use of information technology; the work is carried out in the context of an employment contract/relationship; the work could be performed at the employer’s premises; the work is carried out away from those premises on a regular basis.

The guidelines also define ‘teleworker’ as a person who carries out telework as defined above.

Prevalence of telework

Overall incidence of telework

The Labour Force Surveys include questions on whether an employee works from home or not. It is not possible to distinguish between telework and other types of work carried out at home – namely, work that does not involve the use of information technology (IT). Moreover, the figures presented here only cover people working from their homes, and not from other types of workplaces away from the employer’s premises, such as the premises of a customer/client or premises frequented during travel.

At present, only a relatively small number of employees work regularly from home. Data based on the Labour Force Survey 2005 show that around 9% of all employees had an employment contract that permitted or required some form of working from home, regardless of whether information and communication technologies (ICT) were used. Of these workers, about two thirds reported working from home on a regular basis. Based on the results of the 2005 survey, about 180,000 employees work from home, two thirds of whom – 116,000 workers – do so on a regular basis.

On the whole, it seems that the extent of telework, at least if measured as work carried out from the home on a regular basis, has remained relatively stable over the last 10 years, between 6% and 9% depending on the home/workplace ratio (see table) (NO9802149F, NO0602104T).

The ratio of employees working from home is slightly higher among men than among women. However, if only those who work from home on a more regular basis are taken into account, only minor gender differences are identifiable (see table).

Employees working from home, from 1996 to 2005
Percentage and number of dependent employees working from home, from 1996 to 2005
  1996 1999 2000 2002 2005
Women          
- working from home (%) 7 7 7 7 7
- working from home on a regular basis (%) 5 5 5 4 5
- estimated number who report working from home 66,000 67,000 66,000 67,000 69,000
Men          
- working from home (%) 10 9 9 9 10
- working from home on a regular basis (%) 6 6 6 6 6
- estimated number who report working from home 96,000 95,000 102,000 99,000 110,000
Women and men          
- working from home (%) 8 8 8 8 9
- working from home on a regular basis (%) 5 5 6 5 6
- estimated number who report working from home 161,000 162,000 168,000 166,000 179,000

Source: Labour Force Surveys 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005; 2nd quarter; calculated by Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research

Young employees seldom report working from home. No significant variations exist among workers in different age groups, particularly among those aged 30 years and older.

The number of employees working at home, either on a part-time or full-time basis, varies according to educational background and occupational characteristics. The higher the level of education among workers, the more likely the worker is to pursue home-based work, mostly in combination with work carried out in the workplace. While 6% of employees with only primary or lower secondary education carry out some form of work from home, the relative figure for those groups with a university or advanced college education amounted to 13% in 2005, and to 17% among the group with the highest level of education.

Main sectors using telework

In terms of working from home, employees within the education sector (NACE 80) feature most prominently: 21% of these workers carry out some form of work from the home compared with a labour market average of only 9%. The working time arrangements for teachers represent an important explanation in this case, where only a certain percentage of the working time has to be performed at their workplace. High numbers of employees also report working from home – either occasionally or on a regular basis – in the business activities sectors (NACE 70–74).

Regulatory framework

No specific legislation on telework is yet in place in Norway. The most important piece of legislation regulating employment relationships is the Act relating to workers’ protection and the working environment (Arbeidsmiljøloven, AML (in Norwegian)). It is generally considered to be applicable to work carried out away from the employer’s premises. Thus, teleworkers have access to the same rights and protection as other workers under the AML.

This, however, is only partly true with regard to work carried out in employees’ homes that is not of an occasional nature. Administrative provisions on home-based work were introduced in 2002, which state that the AML is applicable to work carried out in the homes of employees (NO9807177N), unless exemptions are made through administrative provisions. This is relevant to substantial parts of the AML’s provisions on the working environment and working time, which are not made applicable. Furthermore, the provisions exclude the opportunity to monitor and control compliance with the regulations. The most important requirement is that home-based telework must be carried out on the basis of an agreement between the employer and the individual employee.

Telework is also regulated in some collective agreements, but these generally stipulate merely that telework should be voluntary and based on an agreement between the individual employee and the employer. The content of such agreements and conditions under which such work may take place is left to the company-level social partners to decide.

The guidelines for telework defined by the major social partners organisations in Norway were prepared in the context of the EU-level framework agreement, and were published in February 2006. These are voluntary recommendations, and do not commit the company-level social partners. The document includes guidelines on the content of telework employment contracts, data protection, organisation and adjustments to the workplace in the home, education and career development, and the work environment. The EU framework agreement, along with other guidelines and leaflets on telework, forms part of the new guidelines on telework.

Views of social partners and government

The issue of telework has occasionally appeared on the social partner agenda (NO9802149F), but has never really been an issue of priority in the relations between the trade unions and employer organisations in Norway. The employee side has, on the whole, a positive attitude towards telework, although it recognises the potential dangers of a regulatory vacuum in the case of home-based work. Moreover, the lack of monitoring and control legislation means that it is difficult to detect whether the legal framework is being violated. The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge, LO) emphasises that teleworking should be voluntary and also that there is a need to regulate all kinds of telework through collective agreements.

Meanwhile, the employer side regards telework as an important tool to achieve greater flexibility in working life. The Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (Næringslivets Hovedorganisasjon, NHO) is opposed to any centralisation of control through stricter regulations, and highlights instead the need for company-level solutions.

Kristin Alsos, Kristine Nergaard and Håvard Lismoen, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research

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