Rreduction in working time for job rotation schemes
An amendment to working time regulations was due to be passed through the Norwegian parliament in the spring of 2009. The amendment aims to address the differences that exist between job rotation schemes and continuous shift schedules with regard to weekly working time. As job rotation is more common in female-dominated sectors and shift work in male-dominated sectors, the legislation is considered an important measure to ensure gender equality in employment.
Government proposal to amend working time regulations
On 3 April 2009, the government put forward a proposal to the Norwegian parliament (Stortinget) regarding an amendment to working time regulations in the Working Environment Act (2.1Mb PDF) (Arbeidsmiljøloven). The proposal follows an earlier proposition submitted by an expert committee set up by the Norwegian government in November 2007 (NO0711029I, NO0810019I), and recommends a new model by which to calculate working hours for employees working on three-shift rotation schedules. The purpose of this change is to ensure equal treatment between three-shift work or ‘rota work’ (turnusarbeid), which is common in female-dominated sectors of economic activity, and continuous shift work arrangements, which are more commonly found in male-dominated sectors.
Current situation regarding shift work and job rotation
Continuous shift work is used when workforce needs are constant during all shifts. It is characterised by permanent work teams that, on the basis of specific predefined intervals, change or shift their work pattern between daytime, evening and night time.
Rotation shift work is used when workforce needs vary over the course of the working day. In this case, employees are not part of a permanent work team, and the number of workers on the job will vary throughout the day. Women constitute a large majority of employees working on three-shift rotation arrangements, which is often the case in the healthcare sector, whereas men comprise the majority of those working continuous shifts.
While the Working Environment Act gives equal status to shift and rotation arrangements, this is not always the case in practice due mainly to the problems associated with comparing the different systems. Workers subject to round-the-clock or continuous shift arrangements currently enjoy an agreement-based weekly working time of 33.6 hours, while workers on three-shift rotation have an agreement-based weekly working time of 35.5 hours. The act provides for a weekly working time of 36 and 38 hours, respectively, for these two types of working arrangements.
Expert committee’s proposal
The proposal submitted by the expert committee envisions a model in which workers on three-shift or rotation schemes are given a gradual reduction in normal working hours, calculated on the basis of the number of hours worked during night time or on Sundays. Thus, the proposal takes into account the fact that significant variations exist between shift workers with regard to how many nights or Sundays they work in the course of the rotation period. This may be achieved by counting one hour of night work as the equivalent of one hour and 15 minutes of normal working time, and one hour of Sunday work as one hour and 10 minutes of normal working time.
Mixed reaction of social partners to proposal
The main content of the expert committee’s proposal was supported by most of the trade unions organising healthcare employers, including the Confederation of Unions for Professionals (Hovedorganisasjonen for universitets- og høyskoleutdannede, Unio). Unio has for a long time requested changes in this area. However, the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge, LO) opposed the recommendation. According to LO, the proposal would lead to a model contradicting the current system laid down by collective agreements, thus putting pressure on agreement-based systems. Furthermore, LO feared that the proposal would lead to a weakening of existing systems that are more favourable, and would therefore imply a downward harmonisation.
The majority of employer organisations did not support the committee’s proposal. They fear that the new system will lead to an increased administrative burden, especially on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). They have also argued that the amendment is geared towards addressing a problem that mainly exists in one particular sector (healthcare), but will also have major costs for private companies such as those in the commerce and manufacturing sectors.
Content of new legislation and social partner reaction
The government’s proposal (in Norwegian) is based on that made by the expert committee, but seeks to accommodate some of the criticism put forward in the consultation round. Compared with the committee’s recommendation, the new proposal maintains the existing regulation on round-the-clock or continuous shift arrangements and three-shift rotation. However, to meet the problems concerning employees on three-shift rotations, which require them to work on Sundays but where the rotations are not as straining as round-the-clock shift work, these employees will have the right to a gradual reduction in working time. The working time reduction will be at the level proposed by the expert committee and will apply where the rotation scheme requires the employee to work at least every third Sunday.
The new proposal has received support from the trade unions, including LO. Employers consider the latest amendments to be better balanced than in the original proposal put forward by the expert committee. Furthermore, although it still believes that the regulations will be difficult to put into practice for employers, the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (Næringslivets Hovedorganisasjon, NHO) is satisfied that the amended proposal will not lead to significant changes or additional costs for private industries.
Kristin Alsos, Fafo