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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Work rules eased, no one pleased

UPDATED: Neither the labour movement nor employer representatives were happy after Norway’s conservative two-party government struck a deal Thursday with its support parties in parliament to ease the country’s strict national work rules. The compromise aims to give employers more flexibility while also getting more would-be employees into the workforce, but opponents on both sides were disappointed.

Labour Minister Robert Eriksson of the Progress Party has been promoting the government's proposed changes in the country's "arbeidsmiljølov" (the law governing working conditions) for months and won a breakthrough on Thursday. PHOTO: Arbeids- og Sosialdepartemetet/Øyvinn Myge
Labour Minister Robert Eriksson of the Progress Party has been promoting the government’s proposed changes in the country’s “arbeidsmiljølov” (the law governing working conditions) for months, and could mostly claim victory on Thursday. PHOTO: Arbeids- og Sosialdepartemetet/Øyvinn Myge

“We have agreed on a new national labour law that will equip Norwegian business for the future,” Arve Kambe, a Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party, said at a press conference Thursday afternoon. “We have lowered the threshold to get into the labour force.”

The new law agreed on by the Conservatives, its government partner the Progress Party and their two support parties, the Liberals and Christian Democrats, aims among other things to make it easier for employers to hire workers on a temporary basis instead of having to commit to offering them permanent positions. Labour Minister Robert Eriksson from the Progress Party has pushed hard for that, claiming it will give businesses in Norway more flexibility and can create more jobs. He claims full-time permanent positions remain a priority, but there will now be a “general allowance” for temporary employment beyond what exists at present.

Great debate
There’s been great debate in recent months over the proposed liberalization of temporary employment, and the Christian Democrats were among the skeptics. They went along, though, after prevailing in their demand that the temporary work provision could be reversed if it doesn’t have the desired effect. The Liberals, meanwhile, pushed through a two-year limit on temporary employment. Neither union leaders nor employers were satisfied.

“This is in reality a gift to employers who aren’t serious,” Hans Christian Gabrielsen of Norway’s largest trade union federation LO told newspaper Dagsavisen. “We’re especially disappointed that the Christian Democrats support this. They guaranteed during the election campaign that they wouldn’t support temporary employment beyond temporary needs.”

Organizations that represent employers were also disappointed, with Vibeke Madsen of Virke calling the compromise “a much too poor result” of political negotiations.  “This does not give us the flexibility we wanted,” Madsen told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). Svein Oppegard of Norway’s largest employers’ group, NHO, told Dagsavisen that the compromise contained some “important improvements” in the regulations governing working conditions in Norway but that it didn’t provide the “modernization” that employers wanted.

Higher age limits, longer hours
In addition to providing for more temporary employment, the new law will also allow employees to work until the age of 72 if they so choose, and no employer can impose a lower age limit on employment than 70. Rules regarding actual work hours will also be eased, to allow for those who prefer to work a few long shifts (up to an average of up to 13 hours a day) in return for more days off, instead of shorter shifts over several days. More flexibility will also be allowed for working on Sundays, and more overtime can be allowed as well.

The Christian Democrats had also opposed allowance for more Sunday work and admitted that point was “very difficult” in the negotiations over the new law. “But should we have voted it down, or gone along and had influence over how it would work?” mused Kjell Ingolf Ropstad of the Christian Democrats. They opted for the latter, and no workers will be allowed to work more than three Sundays in a row, as opposed to five in the government’s initial proposal.

Jobless workers receiving unemployment benefits, meanwhile, will face new requirements. “We have said and believed for a long time that welfare recipients must get up in the morning,” said Erlend Wiborg of the Progress Party. “We think that’s important for the individual recipient. It’s important they stay active while waiting to get back into work.” The work welfare recipients must perform in order to receive benefits is to be determined by the local communities where they live.

Government victory
The representatives of all four parties that came to terms seemed enthusiastic and their deal marks a major victory for the minority government despite the dissatisfaction within both labour and business. The government will now nonetheless be able to push the vast majority of its proposal through Parliament and thus claim that at least some of its reform attempts have succeeded.

The compromise comes in the same week that pilots at Norwegian Air also failed to prevail with many of their demands in a settlement that labour experts said would also affect the entire Norwegian labour market. The labour movement is on the defensive after 18 months of having the conservative government in power, while the Labour Party is re-gaining strength in public opinion polls.

Labour currently holds 42.1 percent of the vote in the latest poll conducted for newspaper Aftenposten, compared to 30.8 percent for the two government parties combined. The Conservatives have slipped to  21.3 percent of the vote (down from 26.8 percent in the last national election in 2013) while the Progress Party holds just 9.5 percent, down from the 16.3 percent won in 2013 that swept it into government for the first time, in partnership with the Conservatives. Berglund



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