Government intervenes to end strike among professional employees
In early June 2006, the government intervened by means of compulsory arbitration in the bargaining dispute between Akademikerne and the state. The three other main confederations involved in state sector bargaining, YS, LO and UNIO, had accepted the proposal for a new agreement presented to them by the state mediator.
On 7 June 2006, the government intervened by means of compulsory arbitration in the bargaining dispute in the state sector between the Federation of Norwegian Professional Associations (Akademikerne) and the state. The decision followed more than two weeks of strike action among employees with higher university qualifications who are members of Akademiekerne. On 1 June, the three other main confederations in Norway’s state sector – the Confederation of Vocational Unions (Yrkesorganisasjonenes Landsforening, YS), the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge, LO) and the Confederation of Unions for Professionals (Hovedorganisasjonen for universitets- og høyskoleutdannede, UNIO) – managed to conclude a revised collective agreement through the help of the state mediator. The mediator’s proposal is now being approved by relevant member organisations within these three confederations.
This year’s state sector bargaining round was expected to be difficult. The four confederations LO, YS, UNIO and Akademikerne all called on the national authorities to raise the wages of their members substantially, in relation to the traditional manufacturing industry. The demand was made in the context of an increasing wage gap between private and public sector employees. In addition, Akademikerne has long called for changes to the state sector bargaining system, seeking to move away from centralised wage formation towards more enterprise-level wage determination.
In the end, three of the four confederations, YS, LO and UNIO, accepted the proposal for a new agreement presented to them by the state mediator. The final economic framework for negotiations in the state sector was just below 4% (of total state sector wage mass). This will mean a general annual increase of NOK 9,000 (€1,139). A total of 1.75% of wage funds have been set aside for company-level negotiations, which will commence on 1 August 2006, and 0.5% of the funds will be used for central adjustments to the wage system.
In this way, the state agreed to extend the economic framework for the negotiations in order to reach a settlement with the employee confederations. However, this was not enough to gain the approval of Akademikerne, which had already taken strike action following its rejection of an earlier mediation proposal put forward by the state. Although the association would have been willing to accept the overall centrally agreed economic framework set out in the proposal, it would not do so – according to a newspaper interview with Knut Aarbakke, leader of Akademikerne’s bargaining delegation – unless the employees conceded a larger proportion of the wage funds for negotiation at enterprise level.
Akademikerne represents more than 18,000 employees in the state sector, and mostly employees with higher educational qualifications. On 24 May 2006, a total of 125 members of Akademikerne went on strike. The members included legal professionals in the police force, veterinarians working for the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, as well as engineers and doctors within the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
The low number of members to go on strike in the first instance was part of a strategy, according to Akademikerne, to keep the conflict at a small scale and prevent it from posing a threat to the health and well-being of fellow citizens. Later, another 140 members joined the strike action.
On 7 June, the government stated its intentions to put forward a proposal for legislation on compulsory arbitration, which was later approved by the Norwegian parliament (Stortinget) on 13 June. It did so on the grounds that the absence of veterinarians posed a substantial risk to the health of livestock, contravening the provisions of the Animal Protection Act, and as such the conflict was also threatening the health of the wider population.
The collective bargaining round is now to be considered by the National Wage Board (Rikslønnsnemnda), and a decision is not expected before the summer holidays. The board’s ruling is unlikely to deviate substantially from the result achieved among the other confederations.
According to Akademikerne, the decision made by the government underlines the need to reform the present bargaining system in Norway towards more local autonomy in wage formation.
It seems that this year’s collective bargaining round in the state sector was not so much about wage increases as about the principle by which these increases are distributed among different groups within the sector. The employee side appears to be split on this issue; therefore, a certain degree of conflict seems somewhat inevitable.
When three of the four confederations managed to reach agreement with the employer side, it made it harder for the fourth group – Akademikerne – to achieve its demand for decentralisation. The state as employer wants to retain a relatively uniform system of bargaining for all employees; in this regard, it would be difficult for the state to accept the demands of Akademikerne, even in modified form, having already reached agreement with the other three confederations.
Håvard Lismoen, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research