Norway: Working conditions in central public administration

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 06 August 2013

Bjørn Tore Langeland

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

In Norway, a steady increase in the number of CPA workers was seen in the period 2008-2012. No major changes or reforms that affected CPA workers’ working conditions were implemented, and the general working environment is characterised by high job satisfaction and low job insecurity. Likewise, no major measures in the field of CPA working conditions were proposed by the Labour Inspection Authority. There is no major public debate between the social partners in relation to CPA workers’ working conditions, but while unions in general want a continued strengthening of the public sector, employer organisations want a stronger focus on the private sector.


This EWCO CAR is specifically focused on the so-called group of Central Public Administration (CPA) workers (for the concept of public administration, please refer to code 84 – Public administration and defence; compulsory social security of Eurostat’s NACE rev.2 Structure and explanatory notes, always at central level). This category of public workers includes those workers that are employed by the Central Public Administration (CPA) in each Member State, including deconcentrated levels both at regional (Federal or quasi-Federal States) or local level (municipalities), that is to say, workers employed by the CPA irrespectively of the place where they conduct their work. Also, CPA workers include both civil servants and public employees. By way of contrast, public workers employed by the regional or local public administrations are excluded from the research.

The CAR’s coordinating team is fully aware of the existence of very important differences in the definition and delimitation of the “central administration” amongst EU Member States, depending on their historical, political and cultural traditions. These differences will have to be borne in mind when conducting the research, in particular when making international comparisons. In absence of data covering the subsector CPA, national correspondents must indicate that clearly in their answers and shall try to provide the most approximate available data (for example, referring to part of CPA [data on employment in ministries] or comprising CPA [for example “public administration”]) .

The questionnaire focuses on the following topics:

  • Brief description of the general structure of the national Public Administration and of recent changes and reforms introduced (around 250 words)

  • Identification of main recent changes in the working conditions of Central Public Administration (CPA)’s workers, as well as their expected evolution in the near future Describe the main causes and rationale, both general and/or specific, behind these changes (around 1.500 words).

  • Identify relevant institutions and bodies with responsibility for inspection and enforcement of compliance with regulations or legislation on working conditions in the national CPAs, as well as their main recent activities in this domain (around 250 words).

  • Analyse comparatively the opinions and points of views of national social partners on the recent changes on the working conditions of CPA’s workers. Describe possible social dialogue initiatives taken to improve working conditions or avert their possible deterioration (around 400 words).

  • Make a final commentary on the main results (around 100 words)

1: Brief description of the general structure of the national Public Administration and of recent changes and reforms introduced.

1.1 What is the definition/concept of CPA applicable in your country? What are the main similarities and differences of this definition in relation to the one provided in the Background Note? Are there also other Administrative levels (regional/local), whose workers have a different status?

The concept Central Public Administration is not commonly used in Norway, but Central Administration is best defined as the part of the State administration which has the country as implementation field, as opposed to the local government administration, exerted by the county governors and other regional administrative units, its effect on a more limited area. A distinction is often made between ministries (government offices) and central administration departments: directorates and boards that in relation to the ministries may make decisions independently and at their own risk.

1.2 Describe possible different types of national CPA workers in terms of employment relationships/contracts (civil servants, public employees, etc) and their associated characteristics in terms of duties, rights, job responsibilities, ways to access to employment, etc.

In relation to available information and statistical data, it is not possible to differentiate CPA workers in the desired manner. All information and figures will therefore, for the rest of this report, be for all employees within "Public administration, defence and compulsory social security".

1.3 Related to the previous point, give some figures on employment in the public administration and specifically on CPA employment in your country for the time period 2005-2012

The figures below are number of employees (in 1000) within “Public administration, defence and social security”. *Average for the three first quartiles of 2012.

Evolution of CPA workers



























Total Public administration workers









Source: StatBank, Statistics Norway (SSB)

Despite a slight decline from 2010 to 2011, a 17 % increase in the number of employees working within "Public administration, defence and social security" is seen for the 2008-2012 period. For women, the increase was about 24 %, while it for men was around 12 %, which ensured a more even gender distribution for this sector.

1.4 Briefly describe the major changes and reforms implemented in your country’s CPA since 2008 onwards that have proven or very likely have changed/affected working conditions of CPA workers.

In contrast to most other EU countries where sharp cutbacks in public budget, a decline in public sector employment, reduction of the salaries of public employees and an increase of the retirement age are seen, no major changes or reforms that changed / affected the working environment for CPA workers especially have been implemented.

2: Identification of main recent changes in the working conditions of CPA’s workers in your country, as well as their expected evolution in the future.

2.1 Please provide relevant information on the evolution in the time period 2008 onwards on the following working conditions-related variables specifically related to CPA workers in your country.

With the exception of figures for employment status and average number of weekly working hours available at Statistics Norway, very few data sources are available that can be used to describe the development of the working environment of CPA workers for the period 2008 to 2012. The main data source for such information is the Level of Living Survey, which is conducted by Statistics Norway every three years, most recently in 2009. Information in the sections below is taken from this study and describes the working conditions for CPA workers in 2009, compared to employees in the private sector where this information is available.

  • Career and employment security (satisfaction at work, employment status, pay systems and levels, job involvement, autonomy at work, number of worked hours, working time flexibility, fear to lose employment, presence of precarious and/or atypical forms of employment (temporary workers, part-time, agency work), etc ).

Distribution of Employment by industry has changed significantly in recent decades. Employment in the tertiary industries, for example, has grown from 750,000 in the 1960s to the present 1.86 million - a figure that represents well 76 percent of all working. The sector consists of many diverse industries such as retail trade, hotels and restaurants, transport, financial services and tourism, but the largest service sector is the public sector, including social services, health care, education and administration. Figures from Statistics Norway's Labour Force Surveys show that CPA employees increased slightly by 2.7% from 3rd quarter 2008 to 3rd quarter of 2011 but more sharply, from 3rd quarter 2011 to 3rd quarter of 2012 (+10, 000, or equivalent 6.5%). Regarding industrial relations features, the organizational level is at its highest in public administration / defense / security, where nine out of ten employees are organized, while in the private sector, only four in ten are. Figures from both LKU 2009 and the 2009 edition of the annual "European Employee Index" (EEI) shows that overall job satisfaction among Norwegian employees has raised in recent years. This is especially true for employees in public administration where confidence in the employment relationship is the main reason that the employees have a higher job satisfaction than employees in private companies.

In the LKU 2009 survey, ‘control over own work’ is measured using four questions. Two out of three workers reported that they largely determined themselves how they conduct their own work. Asked whether the employees greatly determined the pace of work, and if they were able to influence decisions that are important for their own work, 31% of CPA employees agreed. High control is generally more common in the private (43%) than in the public sector (30-33%). Looking at to what extent employees in various occupations frequently experience to get tasks without adequate equipment and resources to accomplish them, this is reported by 12% of CPA employees. 11% of CPA employees also report that it sometimes or often was unclear what was expected of them at work. Despite the increased rate of change, there is little evidence of any increase in so-called atypical employment such as temporary employment and part-time work within the CPA sector. The proportion of part-time has been relatively stable over the last decade at about 26 to 27 percent. Unlike in many other countries, the share of temporary employees in Norway has been relatively stable over the past decade, and there has also been a significant decrease in the proportion of economically active people working without a written employment contract. In the European context, the Norwegian working population is among those less likely to report a fear of losing their job, and there is no general trend towards more or less job security in Norway. Moreover, job insecurity is generally more prevalent in the private sector (11%) and least prevalent in the government sector (7%).

  • Skills development (continuing vocational training activities, training activities paid by employer)

In the 2009 edition of the LKU survey, a question concerning the introduction of new technology and administrative systems was asked for the first time. The question primarily concerned new technology for which the employee meant training was required. While a total of 54 % of Norwegian workers reported that they have had to familiarize themselves with new technology or administrative systems during the past twelve months, 60% of the CPA employees stated this. In total about one in three Norwegian workers reported that they needed to perform tasks without adequate training, at a few days a month. Almost one in ten experienced this more than once a week. The industries in which the largest proportion reporting lack of proper training is public administration / defence / security (40%), followed by information and communication (39%) and business services (36%). A larger proportion of workers experiences inadequate training in the public sector (37%) than in the private sector (31%).

  • Health and well being (exposure to risks and hazards, stress at work, job intensity, psychosocial risks, information on existing health and safety risks at work, monotonous/complex work, social support at work, organisational issues)

9 % of the CPA workers reported violence and threats of violence in the various industries. Municipal staffs are particularly vulnerable, where almost 17 % report that they have been victims of violence and threats of violence at workplace. By comparison, only 3% of the employees in the private sector reported this. Just over 2% of CPA employees stated that they were exposed to unwanted sexual attention once a month or more. While 2.2% reported to had been bullied by colleagues, once a month or more, 1.6 % experienced to be bullied by their manager. Frequent interruptions of work can be distracting and disruptive and may take the focus away from the work being performed, and interruptions such as phone calls, emails, text messages and noise, seems particularly disturbing when working with high demands attention, precision and quick decisions. Workers in the CPA sector are among the industries where most employees reports of such interruptions (56%), while 40% of the employees in the private sector reported the same. Uncertainty associated with the own role at the workplace, can be an unfortunate strain that may cause low job satisfaction, emotional exhaustion and other health related problems. The industries where this problem is most common, is CPA (12%), followed by electricity-/water supply (11%), mining (11%) and sales / operations of the property (10%). Conflicting requests occur less frequently in private companies than in public, and it is most common in businesses with more than 50 employees. According to several surveys reorganization and the introduction of new technology, is no single phenomenon, but rather a continuous development where the frequency and scope has increased in recent years. The LKU 2009 reported 28 % of workers, or nearly 700,000 people concerned by the reorganization that affected their own work, but did not lead to down-sizing, for the period 2006-09. The figures showed that the highest incidence of reorganization was in the extraction of crude oil / natural gas industry (55%), followed by CPA (43%), finance - / insurance (41 %) and information / communication (40%). For the private sector, only 21 % of the employees reported reorganization. In LKU 2009, almost 42 percent of respondents reported that they have had at least one self-certified sickness absence day in the past year. Among these about 15 % reported that the absence was caused by health problems that wholly or partially were attributable to the job. The highest incidence rate of at least one certified absence was found for CPA workers, with 54 percent reporting this, compared with 43 percent for all industries as a whole. Self-reported sickness absence in the private sector was 40%. Looking at the exhausted sick pay rights by gender and industry, we also find the largest gender gap for CPA workers, where it is significantly higher for women than for men.

  • Reconciliation of working and non-working life (Work life balance, flexibility at work to fulfil personal or family matters, etc)

To our knowledge, no data are available which specifically identify trends for the work-life balance of CPA workers. In the LKU 2009, 14 per cent of the interviewees reported that they felt that the demands of the job affected their private life fairly often or very often. If we include those who reported to occasionally experience this, the proportion is 38 percent. This means that about 340 000 economically active persons often experience this problem. The experience is more common amongst employees in the private sector (19%) and least common in the public sector (11%). It is also more likely to be contacted at home outside working hours in the private sector (35%) than in the public sector (25%).

2.2 If available, and based on existing forecasting studies/researches, etc., please provide information on the expected evolution and trends in the number of CPA workers and their working conditions in the nearer future (coming 1-3 years).

To our knowledge no forecasting studies / researches that provide information and trends in number the number of CPA workers and their working environment in specific are available. Likewise, forecasts of the expected number of employees in the sector CPA are not available on a national level. Forecasts for 2013 are given at county level, where a flattening or a moderate growth in the number of CPA workers is expected next year.

2.3 Please provide information on the likely causes of changes in the working conditions of CPA’s workers identified and their respective rationale. If possible, distinguish between causes related to cyclical reforms from and those related to structural reforms.

As described in section 1.4, no major changes or reforms that have affected / changed working conditions for the CPA staff especially have been seen in the 2008-2012 period, and the increase of the number of employees in CPA sector is in accordance with the current government policy to ensure a strong and effective public administration.

3: Compliance with regulations on working conditions

3.1 Please identify specific national institutions or bodies with responsibility for inspection and enforcement of compliance with regulations/legislation on working conditions in the national public administration in general and CPA workers in particular.

The main national institution responsible for inspection and enforcement of compliance with regulations / legislation on working conditions in Norway is The Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority (Arbeidstilsynet). To our knowledge no special institutions or bodies exist for CPA workers in particular. The Authority has administrative, supervisory and information responsibilities in connection with the Working Environment Act, which applies to all land-based operations with employees. The Labour Inspection Authority oversees that enterprises comply with the requirements of the Working Environment Act. Supervision will mainly be aimed at enterprises with the poorest working conditions, where there is little willingness to correct problems and where the agency's efforts will have the greatest effect. This is done by internal control audits, with reviews of enterprises' internal control systems to reveal whether regulations and procedures are being followed. An audit can take place over several days. Intermittent tests are used to check whether internal control systems function well and that companies meet legal requirements. All serious and life threatening accidents are also investigated by the Labour Inspection Authority. In dealing with enterprises that do not comply with the requirements of the Working Environment Act, the Labour Inspection Authority may respond with an order to correct the situation within a given time limit. If the order is not complied with, coercive fines may be imposed. An enterprise may be shut down with immediate effect if the life and health of its employees are in imminent danger. Shutdowns may also be imposed when enterprises fail to comply with orders given.

3.2 Provide a brief description and available data of their activities and recent initiatives in the field of CPA working conditions taken since 2008 onwards.

No initiatives in the field of CPA working conditions in specific have been taken, since The Working Environment Act was last revised in 2006.

4: Social partners points of view

4.1 Please reflect the points of view of the main social partners in the national public administration with respect to the recent evolution of working conditions of CPA workers, and their assessment of the current situation and perspectives about the future. Describe the elements of agreement/disagreement between them.

The social the social partners had different strategies and opinions about what sectors of the Norwegian economy it would be appropriate to strengthen. The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) considers that a well-developed public sector and good social programs are the best way to reduce uncertainty individual's face: therefore the recent increase in the number of employees in public administration is a desirable development and governmental strategy. The organization also believes that labor market policies must be strengthened, aiming to keep and lead as many as possible back to work, and that the focus on job creation must be adapted to the current needs. The employers' organization, NHO, on the other hand, points out that the public administration currently is too extensive, and that a growth in the number of employees in the private sector is the most efficient way to strengthen competitiveness in the broadest sense.

4.2 Identify recent social dialogue initiatives taken by public sector social partners in the last 3-4 years in order to develop/improve working conditions amongst CPA workers and/or minimise negative consequences of some changes. Briefly describe (objectives, activities developed outcomes) and assess them.

Due to the relatively stable working environment situation of CPA workers for the last years, no one of the major social partners has ​​proposed any major reforms in relation to this. Nevertheless, although the proportion of part-time workers is greatest in the private sector, it was, according to figures from Statistics Norway's labour force survey (AKU), there are still 18 000 part-time workers CPA in 2011. After suggestions from LO, the government have decided to strengthen efforts against involuntary part-time. This includes evaluation of the current preferential in The Working Environment Act, introduction of discussion duty for larger employers with employee representatives on the use of part-time jobs, as well as provisions that clearly entitled employees to higher position if extra work is performed over time. Proposals for a modernization of public administration have also been made, including a simplification of regulations for businesses which will reduce administrative burdens, and digitization of public administration.

4.3 Describe the public debate (if any) in your country regarding the status and working conditions of CPA workers with respect to other groups of public workers and to private sector workers.

There is currently no widespread public debate regarding the status and working conditions of CPA workers in Norway. As mentioned previously, there is a general desire from employees' organizations for a continued growth and a stronger public sector, while the employers' organizations on the other hand want a stronger focus on the development and strengthening of the private sector.

Commentary by the NC

Unlike most other European countries, no major changes in working conditions for CPA workers, either in terms of downsizing, layoffs, salary or increase the retirement age, have been seen for Norwegian CPA workers in the period 2008-2012. Consequently, no major reforms affecting CPA workers working environment were implemented. Despite having the largest proportion of employees reporting lack of proper training for performing their job, the general working environment for CPA workers is characterized by high job satisfaction and low job insecurity. No measures in the field of CPA working conditions have been made by the Labour Inspection Authority since the Working Environment Act was last revised in 2006.

Bjørn Tore Langeland, National Institute of Occupational Health

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