New rules on hiring casual labour

 

In Norway, new rules to protect hired labourers have been introduced. Both trade unions and the Labour Inspection Authority have been given greater powers to ensure that the hiring of labour complies with the law. Employer organisations are highly critical of the changes made to the legal framework, particularly the right of petition for trade unions. A Conservative Party spokesman has said that the changes will be reversed when the Conservative coalition takes office.

Background

In June 2013, the Norwegian parliament adopted new rules to protect hired labourers. The Labour Inspection Authority and trade unions have been given increased powers to ensure that more companies comply with the regulations. The changes have been introduced in addition to measures already adopted as part of the implementation of the Temporary Agency Work Directive (NO1205029I).

When the Norwegian regulatory framework relating to the hiring of labourers was liberalised in 2000, the right to hire labourers was linked to the regulations on temporary contracts. Companies may only hire labourers from temporary work agencies if they have a temporary need for labour. Exceptions to this rule may be agreed between the employer and trade union representatives where companies are bound by a collective agreement., as outlined in sections 14–12 of the Working Environment Act (1.9MB PDF).

Where it is clear that a company’s need is for long-term, rather than temporary employment, employees may demand that their relationship is made permanent and/or claim compensation. Until now, enforcement of this rule was the responsibility of individual employees (that is, the temporary agency worker) bringing actions through the courts.

Since the EU was enlarged in 2004, the temporary agency industry in Norway has grown considerably. Many agency workers are migrants from eastern European Member States who work in industries that are relatively new to the temporary agency sector, for example, in building and manufacturing. Trade unions have drawn attention to the difficulties individual employees face in enforcing these rules and say that since 2000 there have been few court cases in this area. They also argue that many companies are using hired labour even where there is clearly a need for permanent workers, and without seeking union agreement. As a result, they believe further regulation is needed to ensure increased compliance.

Unions’ right to petition

Workers are reluctant to take cases of alleged illegal hiring practices to the courts for various reasons, one of which may be fear about job security. The government hopes that giving unions the right to bring cases before the court will lessen the burden on employees and may also contribute to a general reduction in illegal hiring practices (Prop. 83 L, in Norwegian).

A new right to petition has been awarded to all trade unions within the hiring company. This is because so few temporary agency workers are union members of a trade union, and in general there is a lack of unions in temporary work agencies.

There will, however, often be unions present in the hiring company that could try the legality of the hiring arrangement. The term ‘union’ in this context includes both company-level unions as well as their parent organisations, but it is essential that they have members in the hiring company.

Trade unions may file a petition asking the court to rule on the legality of hiring practices. This means that the court will only rule on the legality or illegality of labour hire, and not whether or not an employee is entitled to permanent employment or compensation. A ruling on these issues must depend on the filing of a subsequent petition by the hired worker. This legal amendment came into force on 1 July 2013.

Labour Inspection Authority’s powers extended

In addition to the right of petition of trade unions, extended powers have also been given to the Labour Inspection Authority. It deals with situations where the use of hired labour is not based on a temporary need, but on agreement with trade union representatives in the hiring company.

In such cases, the Labour Inspection Authority may ask to see written evidence that an agreement has been entered into, and that the conditions for making an agreement have been met. It may also issue a compliance order if the conditions have not been met. If the hiring company can't show the correct documentation, the Labour Inspection Authority can provide guidance to the parties involved but has no other sanctions.

The government’s main objective in strengthening the competencies of inspection authorities is to increase awareness of the issue among employers, and to help to raise awareness in companies of the rules that govern the hiring of workers.

Employers criticise changes

Employer organisations are highly critical of the changes made to the legal framework, particularly trade unions’ right to petition.

The largest organisation, the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), raised a number of objections to the initial proposal. The NHO argues that there is no evidence that change is needed, and that legal action over employment relation matters is problematic for many reasons. Most disputes of this kind are resolved outside the courts, says the NHO, and a decrease in the number of cases brought is not a sound basis for arguing that the regulations are not being enforced properly.

The NHO also criticises the unions' new power to bring a case without the approval of the employees affected, arguing that this may contravene their right not to be involved in any way with a union.

The employers' criticism has been echoed by opposition parties in parliament and became an issue during campaigning for the parliamentary elections held on 9 September 2013. In the run-up to the election, the Conservative Party's Spokesperson on Working Policy, Torbjorn Røe Isaksen, (now Minister of Education and Research) said the changes would be reversed if the conservative coalition parties entered government office. The Centrum/Conservative coalition won the election and took office in October 2013.

Alsos Kristin, Fafo

 

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