LO seeks to appeal to the well educated

At a conference in early January 1999, Norway's LO trade union confederation claimed that its affiliated federations were a better alternative for employees who had been educated at college or university level than other unions. At the same time, an internal LO committee asserted that some groups within the public sector who take higher degrees lose out in pay over the long term. As such, the committee's chair believes that these groups will have a strong case in future pay settlements.

On 7 January 1999, the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge, LO) organised a conference under the title LO and the higher qualified. The theme for the conference was what LO can offer members with college or university qualifications and what constitutes fair pay for the highly qualified. At the conference, LO's vice president, Gerd-Liv Valla, presented the first results from an internal LO committee which had been asked to consider what was a "fair level of pay for employees with higher qualifications". This pay policy review for groups with college or university degrees is the first stage of an LO policy initiative to improve membership services for those with higher qualifications, and hence improve the recruitment of these groups to LO-affiliated federations.

Pay for higher qualified personnel

In the summer of 1998, LO set up an internal committee to pursue the question of what was a fair level of pay for occupational groups with higher degrees. The interim findings of the committee were presented at the conference in January 1999 by the chair of the committee, (and LO vice president), Gerd-Liv Valla. The committee sought to examine whether or not qualifying for a higher degree "pays off" over a lifetime career. It attempted to calculate the costs and benefits of taking a higher degree, including the costs accrued while studying - ie student loans and the foregoing of income during the years as a student.

Ms Valla emphasised in her speech that the committee had not yet completed its work, and so far had not come to any conclusion as to what constitutes a fair level of pay for highly qualified personnel. Nevertheless, she presented some preliminary results from the committee. Whilst taking a higher degree may benefit many groups financially, for some important groups it evidently does not. This is particularly true in the case of some groups in the teaching and social work professions - teachers, nursery school teachers, social workers and nurses. Other professions within civil engineering, medicine and commerce, however, are clearly lucrative, both in the public and private sectors. Ms Valla pointed to the fact that the overall benefits from training/qualifying had declined in the pay settlements of the 1990s, although those who were well-qualified had done better in recent years (from 1996 to 1998).

The LO vice president also stated that the LO would not support any policy which favoured any particular occupational group based on educational qualifications, but would aim to protect the interests of all its affiliated members. Its pay policy would take into account the promotion of employment and international competitiveness. From time to time, some groups might be assigned a greater priority than others whilst at the same time seeking to avoid a knock-on effect for other groups.

In her speech, Ms Valla also emphasised the importance of student loan schemes, and argued for low interest rates on such loans.

Commentary

One of the main current goals of LO (which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 1999) is to strengthen its position vis-à-vis recruitment of employees with higher degrees. An important reason for this is the realisation that these groups are becoming increasingly important in the labour market. There is no predefined or agreed demarcation line with regard to membership basis between the different trade union confederations in Norway, and LO is seeking to organise all types of employees. However, many of the occupational groups with higher qualifications have chosen to establish their own trade unions outside LO. This is probably the main reason why LO has in recent years witnessed a lower membership growth than it counterparts in non-LO federations. A report from the FAFO Institute for Applied Social Science shows that LO, in 1997, organised approximately 30% of all wage earners ("Utmeldinger i LO-forbundene på 1990-tallet", Torgeir Aarvaag Stokke, FAFO (1998)). In 1980, LO's share was approximately 38%. In the same period, the other confederations increased their total share of wage earners from 18.6% in 1980 to 26.5% in 1997.

The reason why LO now focuses on pay for employee groups with higher degrees is probably a wish to strengthen its position among these groups. Surveys among employees indicate that LO currently has between 75,000 and 95,000 members with higher degrees. LO's strong emphasis on further and continuing education reform also highlights the question of what relationship there should be between pay and educational qualifications. In addition, one assumes that LO is concerned about the frustration felt by several professions in the public sector, and that this frustration will have consequences for pay negotiations in health and education. Several professional groups in these areas with high educational qualifications have been greatly dissatisfied with recent pay settlements. The dissatisfaction relates not only to pay in general but particularly to starting salaries for new recruits and adverse comparisons with the pay of similar groups in the private sector.

There was a positive response to the LO's pay policy initiative for groups with higher educational qualifications, both from non-LO affiliated organisations and LO-affiliated federations. However, it remains to be seen how LO will put its policy into practice. The majority of the groups which consider that their pay does not adequately reflect their educational attainments are organised outside LO, including most nurses and teachers. LO usually cooperates with the independent teachers union, the Norwegian Union of Teachers (Norsk Lærerlag, NL) in pay bargaining in the state and municipal sectors. However, as yet there is no sign that LO is considering extending this cooperative venture to include the Federation of Norwegian Professional Associations, (Akademikernes Fellesorganisasjon, AF), which, among others, organises nurses and teachers. One can assume, however, that a precondition for LO to support the nurses' and teachers' efforts to increase their pay will be the assignation of a greater priority to the interests of different academic groups generally as well as in AF. (Kristine Nergaard, FAFO Institute for Applied Social Science

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