New teachers' union established

The founding congress of a new teachers' trade union, the Norwegian Education Union (Utdanningsforbundet) was held in October 2001. The new organisation will be formally established at the beginning of 2002, and will be Norway's third-largest union, with around 130,000 members.

The founding congress of a new Norwegian teachers' trade union was held on 2–4 October 2001. The Norwegian Education Union (Utdanningsforbundet), the name given to the new organisation, will formally come into operation on 1 January 2002. It has been established through a merger of the Norwegian Union of Teachers (Norsk Lærerlag, NL), with approximately 90,000 members, and the Teachers Unions Norway (Lærerforbundet), with some 40,000 members. The merger process was formally initiated in the spring of 1999 (NO0107135N). The new union will have approximately 130,000 members, making it Norway's third-largest union. The main bulk of its members are drawn from the primary school and lower- and upper-secondary school levels. Furthermore, a majority of Norwegian pre-school teachers will also be part of the new organisation. While the distribution of members in terms of gender is relatively balanced in Teachers Unions Norway, there is a significant majority of women in NL.

It is emphasised that this a case of 'two equal organisations merging', and as such they will enjoy equal representation in the new organisation's decision-making bodies - at least in the period leading up to the first ordinary congress in 2003. The implication is that both organisations will have the same number of representatives on the central committee, despite the fact that NL is more than twice the size of Teachers Union Norway. The leader of NL, Helga Hjetland, was elected leader and Anders Folkestad, the leader of the Teachers Union Norway, was elected deputy leader of the Norwegian Education Union.

In addition to a female leader, 10 out of 18 representatives on the new union's central committee are also women. In the organisational rules of the new union it is stipulated that the union will aspire to achieve a female share of 50% in all elected offices in the organisation. This is a somewhat weaker provision than that in the organisational rules of NL, which stipulates that there should be at least 50% women in all elected bodies including the leadership.

The founding congress of the Norwegian Education Union decided to continue the deliberations over the establishment a new union confederation, which involve NL and Teachers Union Norway in collaboration with unions for police officers and nurses (NO0009106F). Neither teachers' union currently belongs to a confederation.

The new Norwegian Education Union will work to increase resource allocation to the educational system, and to maintain public control over the national school system. Furthermore, it will also direct efforts towards increasing teachers' salaries, and promoting the principle of wage setting by means of central collective negotiations. The merger and the decision to continue work on creating a new main confederation will serve to weaken the longstanding cooperative relationship between NL and the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge, LO).

Support for the merger has been considerable in both participating organisations, although there have been some worries among pre-school teachers and among teachers at the upper-secondary school level. The former fear a loss of influence in a new and larger union, where teachers in the ordinary school system will make up an even larger majority than at present. There are also worries that teachers with an extensive academic education may choose to opt out in favour of other organisations. However, in ballots carried out during the summer of 2001, only 6% of NL members were opposed to the merger. The figure was much higher in Teachers Union Norway, at 30%.

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