Agreement ends conflict between police union and state

The Norwegian Police Federation, which represents police officers, managed to reach an agreement with the Norwegian state in July 2009 on working time and compensation for increased working time. The settlement marked the end of a conflict between the two parties that started in the autumn of 2008, involving widespread unrest and government intervention. It is debatable whether the agreement will be sufficient to counter the effects of the protest.

The Norwegian Police Federation (Politiets Fellesforbund, PF) is the largest trade union for employees within the Norwegian police force, organising 10,900 state employees. It is affiliated to the Confederation of Unions for Professionals (Hovedorganisasjonen for universitets- og høyskoleutdannede, UNIO). In the autumn of 2008, a conflict arose between PF and the employer – that is, the Norwegian state.

Background to conflict

The reason behind the conflict was dissatisfaction with the pay conditions within the police force. The trade union instigated media and political campaigns to achieve increased pay compensation for high-risk work and higher compensation for overtime work. The state, as the employer, emphasised that these types of claims should be dealt with during the ordinary annual wage settlements and declined to discuss such demands outside the collective bargaining round. At the same time, there was considerable apprehension among the employees concerned.

An increasing number of police officers started turning down requests for overtime work from the employer and made themselves inaccessible outside ordinary working time. Furthermore, a growing number of employees took sick leave. PF was accused of organising an industrial action campaign with the aim of achieving extra pay increases outside the annual wage negotiations within the public sector at state level. However, the PF leader, Arne Johannessen, repeatedly denied this allegation.

Working time agreement renegotiations

The conflict between PF and the state soon became connected with the renegotiations of an agreement concerning deviations from the ordinary rest regulations. PF had entered into a working time agreement with the state that was to expire on 1 July 2009. The agreement allows for an exemption from the rest periods as laid down by the Working Environment Act (2.2Mb PDF); without such an agreement, the number of person-years worked within the police would have been substantially reduced. Attempts to reach an agreement on the working time issue failed. In January 2009, the Minister of Labour and Social Inclusion, Dag Terje Andersen, announced that the government would establish the rest provisions of the working time agreement for police in an administrative regulation.

PF reacted strongly to this decision, claiming that this was a breach of the traditional system of social dialogue in Norway, and responded by going on political strike. The criticisms raised against the ministerial approach were largely shared by the other employee organisations within the public sector at state level. Minister Andersen as well as the Minister of Justice and the Police, Knut Storberget, argued that the state had to take necessary steps to ensure a well functioning police force after the working time agreement had expired, and that the proposal only recommended pursuing the existing regulation. However, Mr Andersen did allow for negotiations between the parties on financial compensation for the inconvenience caused by the agreement.

Agreement finally reached

Parallel to the annual wage negotiations in 2009, a working group negotiated the working time agreement. The parties did not come to a settlement and the administrative regulation entered into force on 1 July 2009. However, on 9 July, the parties finally managed to reach a consensus. The final agreement replaces the administrative regulation and increases the weekly working time by one hour for 9,000 police officers. In return, police officers receive a compensation of NOK 15,000 (€1,732 as at 15 September 2009) a year. Furthermore, the agreement includes increased opportunities to make derogations to the Working Environment Act, giving more flexibility to the employer. More than 6,000 police officers will be granted wage compensation of NOK 40,000 (€4,618), while 600 prosecutors and 400 civil employees will receive compensation of NOK 35,000 (€4,040) a year. The agreement is said to involve costs totalling NOK 335 million (€39 million) and is to be subject to an evaluation in 2012.

Commentary

Although PF managed to reach an agreement with the state, thereby gaining a pay rise outside the annual wage settlement, it might be questioned whether the campaign has been successful. Critics argue that the conflict was undermining people’s trust in the police, as police officers refused requests for overtime and an increasing number of officers went on sick leave. PF made repeated statements to the media claiming that such action was related to a difficult workforce situation. However, this possible undermining of people’s trust might be a short-lived negative effect.

Furthermore, the pay increase might not be sufficient to satisfy police officers. By turning down overtime, some police officers may have lost more than NOK 100,000 (€11,544) during the conflict and a compensation of NOK 15,000 ((€1,732) to NOK 40,000 ((€4,618) a year might not be considered as a satisfactory result. This could lead to long-lasting motivation problems within the police force.

Kristin Alsos, Fafo

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