Sick pay a key issue in general election

The national sick pay scheme was one of the central issues on the agenda in the run-up to the Norwegian parliamentary election in September 2001. The present Labour government wants to maintain existing provisions allowing full wage compensation in the event of sickness absence, while the Conservative Party, among others, wants to see a reduction in the level of compensation.

Parliamentary elections were due to be held in Norway on 10 September 2001. The election campaign was marked by poor support in opinion polls for the present ruling party, the Norwegian Labour Party (Det norske Arbeiderparti, DnA), and strong support for the opposition Conservative Party (Høyre). The three centre parties will once again join forces and present themselves as an alternative. No party is likely to end up with a majority in parliament after the election, and significant political bargaining will most probably take place between the various parties after the election.

One of the issues high on the election agenda has been the controversial subject of the national sick pay scheme. The Norwegian sick pay scheme is quite generous, providing employees with full pay compensation from the first day of sickness absence. Both employers' organisations and a number of political parties (NO9708119N) have on several occasions called for changes to the present scheme, but have met with significant opposition from trade unions.

During the election campaign, the Conservative Party has advocated a reduction in the pay compensation level, and this will be among its first priorities if it comes to office. In the autumn of 2000, the Conservative Party put forward a proposal to alter the sick pay scheme in such a way as to give employees partial (50%) pay compensation the first three days of absence, and 90% compensation thereafter. Other parties also want to see alterations to the scheme. The largest of the centre parties, the Christian Democratic Party (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF), has called for a follow-up of the recommendations made in autumn 2000 by a public committee considering the sick pay scheme, the so-called Sandemann committee (NO0010109F). However, the Christian Democrats are reluctant to introduce such alterations to the sick pay scheme without the approval of trade unions.

For its part, the Labour Party has pledged that the sick pay scheme will be left unaltered for the next four years if it wins the election. Furthermore, it has argued during the campaign that the tax cuts promised to the voters by the Conservative Party will soon be absorbed by the changes in the sick pay scheme. There have, however, been claims in the media that in the spring of 2001 the Labour government endeavoured to persuade the social partners to agree on amendments to the sick pay scheme, although it was turned down by the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge, LO) and the other unions.

There are reasons to believe that the sick pay scheme will be an important issue if, as many commentators expect, coalition negotiations takes place after the election in September 2001. Although it is doubtful that the Conservative Party will receive majority support for its proposed scheme, a change in government will beyond doubt actuate the proposals for change that are listed in report of the Sandemann committee. As on earlier occasions, the question remains, however, as to the willingness of a new government to change the scheme in face of strong opposition from the unions.

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