Workplace laws set for overhaul

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The Norwegian government announced sweeping changes to workplace laws on Wednesday, which would allow more compulsory overtime, more work on Sundays, longer shifts and changes to temporary employment rules. Labour and Social Affairs Minister Robert Eriksson said the proposal aimed to create more flexibility in the changing labour market.

Labour and Social Affairs Minister Robert Eriksson announced the government's changes to labour laws on Wednesday. They included more flexibility over Sunday hours, longer shifts, more overtime and temporary staffing. Employer organizations had long called for many of the measures, but unions and many opposition political parties denounced the changes. PHOTO: Øyvinn Myge/ASD/Arbeids- og sosialdepartementet

Labour and Social Affairs Minister Robert Eriksson announced the government’s changes to labour laws on Wednesday. They included more flexibility over shift length, overtime, Sunday hours and temporary staffing. Employer organizations had long called for many of the measures, but unions and many opposition political parties denounced the changes. PHOTO: Øyvinn Myge/ASD/Arbeids- og sosialdepartementet

“We see that the labour market has changed in recent years,” Eriksson told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after presenting the labour law changes on Wednesday morning. “It demands more flexibility, both from employees and employers. We want a contemporary workplace act, therefore we have chosen to make moderate upgrades as we promised during the election campaign.”

Eriksson said the flexibility needed to extend beyond the major employee organizations. “I feel that flexibility is also demanded from small businesses around the districts of Norway, and it is important to have labour laws that protect the whole Norwegian labour market,” he said.

More overtime, longer hours, Sundays
The proposal includes increasing compulsory overtime from 10 to 15 hours a week, and from 25 to 30 hours a month. The maximum yearly overtime limit would remain unchanged at 200 hours, or up to 300 hours for those with collective agreements.

“It is a gentle modernization by adaption to the real workplace,” Eriksson said during the press conference. “I have met employees in companies who have asked: why can’t I work a little more in short periods? Work slightly longer days, a little more overtime.”

He did not believe the changes would give bosses more power over workers. “We are talking about that an employer may require staff only within one month to work on average 0.25 hours more per day. That is relatively moderate, there is no brutalization as some would argue.”

The maximum ordinary working hours per day in an individual agreement could, under averaging, increase from nine to 10 hours, and the averaging of working hours under local agreements could increase from 10 to 12 hours per day. “It still means that the current provisions of 48 hours remains fixed – you cannot work more than 48 hours a week,” said Eriksson. “If you have a collective agreement that means 45 hours a week. It also means that in the duration of a year, you cannot work more than the normal working hours of 40 hours per week.”

The laws would change to grant the possibility of working on Sundays, if the nature of the work made it necessary. The proposal also sought to make temporary employment more accessible.

Liberal backing
The Liberal (Venstre) party indicated on Wednesday it would back the conservative coalition’s changes to the labour laws. “It is very good that the government is finally taking hold and helping to ensure a more modern and flexible labour market,” the Liberals’ Sveinung Rotevatn told NRK. “Venstre has wanted this for a long time, and we agree with much of what’s coming from the government today.”

However, the party wasn’t completely satisfied. Rotevatn said the Liberals wanted a tightening on the maximum period a person could be employed as a temporary worker from four to two years. They also wanted a loosening of laws for evening and night shift work, which currently operate from 9pm. Rotevatn said that should be moved to midnight. “If you do not have a collective agreement, it should not be such that you are a law breaker if you pick up your laptop and answer an email or take a work call after nine o’clock at night.”

The government’s other usual support party, the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) criticized the moves to open up temporary employment. “The proposal from the government protects only the employer, and not the employee,” said labour policy spokesman Kjell Ingolf Ropstad. “KrF believes that permanent employment will continue to be the norm, and that the right to permanent employment must be reduced from four years as is the rule today.”

The party said it would carefully go through the consultation paper and talk with stakeholders before deciding whether it would support the proposal.

The Labour party (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap) argued the changes would lead to more permanent jobs being made into temporary positions, destroying confidence in the labour market. They said the changes to overtime and Sunday work would affect Norwegian family life, and give employees less control over their working day.

The Socialist Left party (Sosialistisk Venstreparti, SV) said while more temporary workers may find jobs, it would create fewer permanent positions. “It is a good day for capitalists and thugs, and a bad day for everyone who wants a safe and regulated labour market, ” said party leader Audun Lysbakken.

Unions oppose
While employer organizations had campaigned for years for many of the changes, unions slammed the proposal. Workers’ union YS argued it was “unnecessary, provocative and should be shelved as soon as possible.” Acting leader Erik Kollerud said there was little evidence the proposal would achieve what the labour minister claimed, and disagreed that opening up temporary worker arrangements would create more jobs.

“I think on the contrary that the change of employment protection for weak groups will affect stigmatization,” he argued. “This will create a divide between those who have permanent and those who have temporary jobs.”

Public sector union Delta said there was no need for changes to the legislation, which was designed to protect workers. Instead, the proposal shifted the balance in favour of employers, argued deputy Lizzie Ruud Thorkildsen.

Unio leader Anders Folkestad told newspaper VG that in reality, it meant workers would be on probation for a year before they were hired as permanent staff. “The reason that we believe it is dramatic is that it is a proposal which will remove the security of Norwegian employees,” Folkestad said. “Today, the norm is permanent employment – in the future we’re risking that the norm will be that you first become a temporary employee, then maybe permanent after a while. We believe that the government today is attacking one of the cornerstones of Norwegian working life.”

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate