Parliament turns down legislative proposal to prohibit closed shops

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In June 1997, the Norwegian Parliament turned down a legislative proposal which would provide employees with a right both to choose their own organisation or not to be organised. The aim of the proposal was primarily to prohibit collective agreements with closed shop clauses. This would have had a particular impact on employees in enterprises affiliated to the labour movement.

The Norwegian Parliament has recently discussed a legislative proposal submitted by Carl I Hagen, the leader of the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet), a party to the right of the Conservative Party. The proposal, which aimed to provide employees with a statutory right to the freedom to organise, would have prohibited closed-shop clauses in collective agreements. The legislative proposal won support from the Progress Party and the Conservative Party, but did not receive sufficient backing to be adopted. However, several of the parties which voted against the proposal want the Government to look into the question of the freedom to organise, either in connection with the revision of the Labour Dispute Act (NO9706112F) or in some other context.

In Norwegian industrial relations it is generally assumed that employees have the right to be a member of an employee organisation (a positive right to organise). The employees' and employers' freedom to organise is often written into the collective agreements, amongst others the Basic Agreement between the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) and the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (NHO).

In several enterprises with ties to the labour movement, a closed shop is practised, - ie membership in one of the LO-affiliated unions is mandatory. This obligation to organise is stipulated in the relevant collective agreements and covers approximately 20,000 employees. The question of closed shops appeared on the political agenda during the autumn of 1996 when several employees of Norwegian People's Aid, an aid organisation affiliated to the labour movement, became members of a union not affiliated to LO.

Until now, it has generally been accepted that collective agreements containing closed-shop clauses are not in conflict with Norwegian law, nor Norway's obligations according to international law. Some labour law experts argue, however, that the closed-shop clauses are in conflict with the European Human Rights Convention and some of Norway's other obligations vis-à-vis international law. The issue of closed shops is presently also being discussed within the labour movement, and LO has appointed a committee to review the question of closed shops in light of the fundamental principles the issue raises.

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