Norway: Latest working life developments Q4 2018

A year-long court battle over the responsibility of employers in the aviation industry, state intervention in a labour dispute in the health sector and a new letter of intent on improving working life are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Poland in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Supreme Court overrules pilots and cabin crew on definition of employer

In December 2018, the Norwegian Supreme Court delivered a judgement about who the employer is for pilots and cabin crew working for the group of companies that make up low-cost airline Norwegian.

The airline is split into several business segments, each containing several companies, and separate service companies employ the pilots and the cabin crew. However, the pilots and cabin crew claimed that Norwegian’s company structure resulted in people being hired illegally and said that their real employer was Norwegian Air Norway AS, the operation company holding the air operator’s certificate. Their reasoning was that Norwegian Air Norway AS was managing their activities and was therefore their employer according to The Working Environment Act.

The Norwegian Supreme Court disagreed and found that the pilot service company and the cabin service company are the de facto employers of the pilots and the cabin crew. Norwegian Air Norway AS is only hiring crew services under a framework service agreement. The Supreme Court also found that the service companies, as employers, were fully managing the activities of pilots and cabin crew. It was not decisive for the court’s ruling that all of the companies concerned were part of a parent company that was responsible for managing the group as a whole.

The Confederation of Vocational Unions (YS) and the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) see the case as pivotal in terms of the development of working life. The unions fear that the recent judgement could lead to the responsibility of employers being weakened in Norwegian law. [1] On the other hand, the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO) finds the judgment to be ‘clear and good’. [2]

State intervenes to halt labour dispute in health sector

On 25 October, the Norwegian Nurses Organisation (NSF) went on selective strikes at private healthcare institutions. The strikes were organised by the Norwegian Federation of Service Industries and Retail Trade (NHO Service og Handel) and involved 56 out of 501 union members. The nurses demanded pay rates and regulations equal to those in public collective agreements.

After three weeks of strikes, NHO Service og Handel issued a lockout notice that prevented the rest of the 501 union members from working. The federation argued that the current strikes only affected a few companies, and that these carried the whole burden of the dispute. A lockout off all union members would apply this burden equally and was necessary in order to drive the conflict forward. [3] The notice put pressure on the NSF, which argued that NHO Service og Handel wanted the state to intervene and stop the industrial action. [4]

The day before the lockout started, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Anniken Hauglie announced that the Norwegian Board of Health Supervision had reported that people’s lives might be in danger if the lockout went ahead. To avoid such risks, the minister found it necessary to intervene in the dispute and try to resolve the situation peacefully. Such interventions happen regularly in Norway (once or twice a year on average) in order to minimise or avoid the possible harmful effects of industrial action, and the underlying dispute is usually solved through compulsory arbitration.

Letter of intent aims for a more inclusive working life in Norway

In 2018, the importance of optimising the working environment was clearly set on the agenda for public debate. The National Institution of Occupational Health (STAMI), together with other actors in the working environment area, stressed that the working environment was an important prerequisite for future Norwegian welfare and competitiveness. In a study published in May 2018, the cost of a non-optimised working environment was estimated to be over €8.3 billion per year in Norway. [5] This included costs related to healthcare, loss of productivity and loss of production. It indicated that optimising the working environment could lead to a large economic gain.

In December 2018, the importance of optimising the working environment was reinforced in a new letter of intent on a more inclusive working life ( IA Agreement ). This is based on a mutual agreement between the government (represented by the Minister of Labour and Social Inclusion) and the employer and employee organisations. The tripartite agreement has been renewed five times since 2001, most recently for the period 2019–2022. The new agreement's overall goal is to reduce sickness absences and the number of people who drop out of working life. The agreement also pays special attention to retaining employees with long-term absences and optimising the working environment. A new addition is increased awareness of targeting the specific challenges in each industrial sector and prioritising measures that address and prevent these challenges.

Commentary

Many unions regard the battles in the aviation industry as a precursor to conflict in other sectors as the economy continues to become more global and international competition increases. A recent court judgment found that the government was wrong when it argued that the European Economic Area (EEA) treaty meant that Norway was obliged to allow third-country citizens to be employed on Norwegian aircrafts. [6] The court decision did not alter the legislative regulation, but the LO found it necessary to proceed with the case in order to open a political debate on the limits of national regulation in the context of the EEA treaty and other international agreements.

 


Footnotes

  1. ^ LO (2018), Norwegian vant i Høyesterett - loven må styrkes , 12 December
  2. ^ NHO (2018), Norwegian-saken: Morselskapet har ikke arbeidsgiveransvaret , 12 December
  3. ^ NHO (2018), NHO Service og Handel går til lockout , 15 November
  4. ^ Norge (2018), Sykepleierforbundet om NHOs lockout: – Dramatisk , 15 November
  5. ^ Oslo Economics (2018), Samfunnsnytten av bedriftshelsetjenesten , Oslo
  6. ^ Fri Fagbevegelse (2018), LO vant i retten: Regjeringen tok feil da de mente endring var påtvunget av EU , 5 December

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