Expert committee to examine shift and rotation work

In early November 2007, the Norwegian government set up an expert committee to deliberate different aspects of working time schemes involving shift and rotation work. A central question in this case is whether or not the two types of working time schemes may be regarded as equal, one of the consequences of which may be shorter working hours for female-dominated groups in the health and social care sector.

On 9 November 2007, an expert committee was set up by the Norwegian government with the mandate to deliberate working time arrangements connected with shift and rotation work. Both types of working time schemes involve night and weekend work. Shift work is most common in male-dominated sectors such as the manufacturing industries, while a large majority of rotation workers are women in the health and social care sector. A central issue in recent years has been the extent to which the weekly working time of some rotation work schemes should be reduced to the same level as continuous shift schedules. The social partners have so far been unable to reach agreement on this issue, which is regarded as an important gender equality issue by many trade unions (NO0510103F).

Committee’s mandate

The expert committee has been given the mandate (in Norwegian) to examine the magnitude of and practices connected with shift and rotation work in different industries, as well as to look at the association between these types of working time arrangements and the frequency of shorter working hours or part-time work. Among the topics to be considered by the committee are:

  • the extent to which shift and rotation work may be organised in such a way as to reduce the frequency of involuntary part-time work;
  • the degree to which the organisation of working time schemes of this type leads employers to offer part-time rather than full-time employment;
  • the extent to which working time arrangements of this type generate increased part-time work because they are perceived to be strenuous by the employees who subsequently choose to reduce their working hours.

The committee is also responsible for examining the effect on the working environment of such working time schedules. The committee consists of experts on working time arrangements such as shift and rotation work, collective agreements and labour market issues. In terms of the evaluation, the committee is expected to consider whether or not the existing regulatory framework on shift and rotation work is adequate, including the extent to which a certain rotation scheme is comparable to a shift work scheme. The committee is to submit its evaluation report by 1 October 2008.

Shift and rotation working time regulation

Both working time schemes involve a lowering of the average weekly working time. They are also subject to legal regulation in terms of the Working Environment Act (2.09Mb PDF) (Arbeidslivets lover), as well as to regulation through collective agreements. At present, the weekly working time of those who work continuous shifts amounts to 33.6 hours, while workers on three-shift rotation schedules normally have an average weekly working time of 35.5 hours. The main reason for this gap in working hours is that workers on three-shift rotation schedules work less frequently at unsocial hours, that is, during evenings, nights or weekends. In doing so, they fail to satisfy the definition that allows for a reduction in the weekly working time to 33.6 hours.

Views of social partners

Trade unions with a high proportion of women among their members have long called for a balance between the status of shift and rotation work in terms of average weekly working time (see references below). These trade unions believe that the two working time schemes mentioned are comparable with regard to the degree of strenuous working hours involved – such as working at night and during weekends – and criticise the present method of calculating unsocial working hours in rotation work schemes. According to several trade unions, the present structure systematically underestimates the number of hours worked at unsocial times. The Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud (Likestillings- og diskrimineringsombudet) shares this opinion, arguing that the present arrangement discriminates against women. The committee, thus, must also consider more technical questions on how the number of unsocial working hours – which is the reason for reduced working hours – should be calculated.

The employers emphasise that the two types of working time schemes are subject to the same regulatory framework, but deny that they involve the same degree of strenuousness since employees on rotation schemes work fewer strenuous hours – in the evening, at night and at the weekend – than those working continuous shifts. The employers also argue that the potential working time reductions involved will have negative consequences in a situation already marked by a pressing shortage of labour (see references).

Further information

To gain a broader picture of the social partners’ views concerning this issue, see the following list of references:

Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), LOs høringssvar til Arbeidslivslovutvalget (in Norwegian, 337Kb PDF) [Commentary on the Working Environment Act], 2004

Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), Statement regarding the expert committee (in Norwegian), 2007

Norwegian Nurses Association (NSF), Likestilling av skift og turnus (in Norwegian, 56Kb PDF) [On shift and rotation work], 2004–2005

Norwegian Nurses Association, Sykepleierne aksepterer ikke at skift/turnus-saken treneres! (in Norwegian, 71Kb PDF) [Statement regarding the expert committee], 2007

Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees (Fagforbundet) and Norwegian Nurses Association, Manglende likestilling av skift- og turnusarbeid i ny arbeidsmiljølov (in Norwegian, 1.05Mb MS Word doc) [Letter to the parliamentary committee regarding the 2005 revision of the Working Environment Act], 2005.

Spekter, Er det likestilling å likestille arbeidstiden for skift og turnus? (in Norwegian) [Article on shift and rotation work, including Spekter’s position on levelling the two working time schemes], Spekter Orienterer, No. 1, 2007.

Kristine Nergaard, Fafo Institute for Applied Social Science

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