Norway: Developments in working life – Q1 2016

Rising unemployment, the start of the biannual collective bargaining round, a report from the expert committee on working time, and a new report focusing on young workers and sustainable work life are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Norway in the first quarter of 2016.

Unions demand changes to temporary layoff rules

Falling oil prices contributed to the down-scaling of oil investments and a rise in the registered unemployment rate, which increased to 3.3% (unadjusted) in March 2016. This is an increase of 10% compared with March 2015. As a result of the downturn, the union confederations are asking the government to amend the rules on temporary lay-offs so that companies can lay workers off for longer periods.

Collective bargaining round begins 

The first quarter of 2016 saw the start of the collective bargaining round. In Norway, collective agreements are renegotiated every second year, beginning with negotiations in the manufacturing industry. As soon as the parties in this sector reach a new agreement, other industries and trades will negotiate agreements in both the private and the public sector using the first agreement as a guide. Due to a worsening economic situation in Norway, pay increases are expected to be moderate, but other issues are likely to take up time in the negotiations. For example, occupational pensions have been fiercely discussed within the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) in preparation for this bargaining round. Occupational pensions have so far not been regulated by most private sector collective agreements, but trade unions, especially within the private service sectors, are now demanding that workers should have a say in this issue. The topic was also on the agenda in the bargaining round in 2014. This year, the executive committee of LO has decided that Fellesforbundet, the union representing workers in construction, farming, hotels and restaurants, should fight to secure a group occupational pension scheme.

Expert committee on working time reports

At the beginning of 2016, an expert committee on working time submitted a report to the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs. The report concluded that Norwegian working time regulations functioned well, but some adjustments were needed to increase flexibility for employees and companies. One change, which was suggested by a majority of the committee, was to expand the group of workers that can opt out of working time regulations. Existing regulations state that only managers and people in some independent positions can opt out, but the committee argued that workers with some independence could also manage with less protection and would be happy to have more flexible regulations. Another suggestion was designed to solve a dispute in the health sector about the number of Sundays that employees should be on duty. The report has been sent to social partners and other stakeholders for consultation.

Young workers and sustainable work life

A new report published by the Nordic Council of Ministers, Young workers and sustainable work life: Special emphasis on Nordic conditions, presents statistics about the safety, health and work participation of young workers (aged 15–34) in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland. The data show that young workers in Norway are three times as likely to experience work-related skin problems and almost twice as likely to have an accident at work than older workers. Young workers also face the following increased risks, compared with older workers:

  • 10% higher risk of work-related mental health problems;
  • up to a 30% higher risk of work-related headaches;
  • a 40% higher risk of being exposed to chemicals, dust, fumes or gases at work;
  • an almost 50% higher risk of being exposed to heavy loads.

The authors conclude that to prevent and reduce accidents and diseases among young workers, more information is needed about the transition from school to work, and the health and safety risks associated with working life.

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