Annual wage talks got underway this week, right after the traditional handshake between the leaders of Norway’s largest labour and employer organizations. Negotiations begin amidst debate over pay gaps and household income differences in Norway, and after an eye-opening survey that ranked monthly paychecks in the country’s most- and least-lucrative professions.
“This year it’s our turn (to prevail in wage talks),” declared Hans-Christian Gabrielsen, leader of trade union confederation LO, heading into the talks. “Workers will get their piece of the pie.” He’s up against a new “opponent” after Ole Erik Almlid took over as head of Norway’s largest employers’ organization NHO late last year.
The two like to refer to their organizations as “partners” in Norwegian worklife that, along with the government, form the so-called “Norwegian model” on which the social welfare state is based. There’s no question, though, that they each must have the interests of their members at heart, with Gabrielsen charged with getting the best possible pay and benefits for employees and Almlid striving to keep costs down for employers.
The labour unions contend they have accepted years of moderation, not least after oil prices collapsed in 2014 and the economy suffered. Now they want “real increased purchasing power for everyone,” especially those at the lowest end of the pay scales. Some economists have predicted that basic wage hikes will reach 3 percent this year, plus various additions allotted in industry sectors.
Average monthly pay: NOK 45,600
New figures from state statistics bureau SSB (Statistics Norway) show, meanwhile, that the average monthly paycheck in Norway now amounts to NOK 45,600 (USD 5,300) for full-time workers, up 2.9 percent from last year. The SSB study also ranked the jobs in which Norwegians earn the most and the least.
Securities- and shipbrokers (neither of whom tend to be represented by trade unions) topped the list, earning an average NOK 109,000 a month (roughly USD 152,000 per year) before bonus or stock options. Then came average salaries for leaders in the oil and gas business which, at NOK 106,930 a month, showed how the industry has rebounded from the past few years of cutbacks and layoffs. Many workers in the oil and gas sector are members of labour unions.
One of the biggest surprises in the study was the relatively high salaries of leaders in the public sector, several of whom earn more than their counterparts in the private sector. Average monthly paychecks amounted to NOK 95,000, just behind the oil and gas leaders and ahead of finance industry leaders and brokers, pilots and doctors.
Another study, by a commission that crunches numbers prior to annual wage talks (TBU), showed that top leaders in the state, municipalities and health care administration all have million-kroner salaries and earn an average NOK 150,000 more per year than the leaders of many businesses. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that Øystein Eriksen Søreide, the former Oslo politician married to Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide who now heads a city district’s administration, is paid NOK 1.22 million (USD 142,000) a year, while the retiring leader of Oslo’s planning department, Ellen de Vibe, has been earning NOK 1.4 million.
A professor at business school BI, Espen R Moen, pointed out, though, that they have a lot of responsibility and many employees. He also noted that Norway’s private sector is made up of many small companies with relatively low pay for their top leaders.
Food and beverage industry ranks low
Norway’s poorest-paid workers included farm assistants working with livestock (NOK 26,020), café and kiosk staff (NOK 27,940) and waiters and bartenders (NOK 28,500). Hotel workers also ranked poorly, with LO ready to demand special wage hikes for those at the lowest end of the pay scale.
SSB’s statistics also showed that there are still some major pay gaps between men and women, especially in the finance sector and among brokers. While a male stock broker earns an average NOK 109,930, women holding the same job earn just 61,270, a mere 55.7 percent of the men. That can also be, however, because most female brokers are relatively young and the majority of their colleagues are older males. One currency broker at Danske Bank in Oslo told Aftenposten that she made sure that she was earning roughly the same as her male contemporaries.
Pay gaps overall narrowed between 2015 and 2018, according to SSB’s study, but they still exist. Sector-wide, men earned an average NOK 48,420 per month, while women earned NOK 42,710, 13 percent less than her male colleague.