Worker participation - Norway

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Lothar Lißner, Kooperationsstelle Hamburg IFE GmbH, Germany

Introduction

This article describes the involvement of workers in decision-making and manage-ment processes in Norway. It focusses on OSH-related participation rights and practices, but also describes the general situation regarding participation.

Norway has a well-developed system for workers to participate in OSH matters, mainly through elected union representatives, works councils and OSH representatives and committees. Union representation, which is laid down in agreements with social partners, is considered more influential when it comes to worker participation than the legal rights of workers. Legislation in Norway grants both public and private sector employees the right to participate in the decision making bodies where they work. Trade unions and employers have agreed on the specific rights of the unions, thus extending the legal base.

The article describes the types of participation. An overview of methods of worker participation can be found in Methods and effects of worker participation and Occupational safety and health management systems and workers’ participation.

Regulatory framework for worker participation

Worker participation – international level and Norway

At the international level, regulatory provisions on worker participation are contained in Article 19 of ILO Convention C-155 on Occupational Safety and Health.[1] Norway ratified this convention in 1982.[2]

The main European legislation for worker information and consultation on OSH is the Framework Directive 89/391/EEC. Worker participation and consultation is a fundamental element of this directive. For companies active in more than one EU country, employee participation is referred to in Council Directive 2001/86/EC [3] and complements the Statute on the European Company concerning the involvement of employees. Several models of participation by agreement are possible. The most important of these is the board-level employee representation. Norway implemented this directive in a bill: ‘Workers right to participate in European enterprises’.[4]

Worker participation – legal representation rights

The idea of worker participation in Norway has spread continuously to more and more sectors, company types, all kinds of private enterprises, and state organisations, such as the military.[5] [6] The focus has been to strengthen workers’ general representation rights. As early as 1972 the law for stock companies was changed, granting workers one third of the seats on decision making bodies (Styre). Regarding participation in decision-making, legislation entitles workers in companies with 30 or more employees to elect employee representatives to the board of directors. In smaller companies this can be done on a voluntary basis. In companies with between 30 and 50 employees, workers can elect an ‘employee director’, who has the same powers and rights as other directors, irrespective of the size of the steering board. In companies with a workforce between 50 and 200, employees are entitled to a third of the seats on the board. Workers representation in these companies with fewer than 200 employees is not automatic by law - workers must request it. This can be achieved by submitting a formal request, signed by at least 50% of the workforce, or via a majority vote by workers on the issue. The company must then establish employee board-level representation.

Companies with more than 200 employees have a more complex decision-making structure – a general corporate assembly (bedriftsforsamling) and a board. The corporate assembly normally has 12 members; two-thirds are elected by the shareholders and one third by (and from) employees.

The corporate assembly also chooses the board of directors, and again, one third of the board has to be chosen by the employees. However, companies with more than 200 employees can opt not to have a corporate assembly. Some unions have negotiated a different structure, which is possible if they represent at least two-thirds of employees. In such cases, the employees are entitled to an additional board member (on top of the one third they already have), plus two additional observers. In practice, only around one fifth of companies with more than 200 employees have a corporate assembly. In 2008, the Norwegian government decided that 40% of board members in public limited companies (the ASA companies) have to be women. There are only 250 ASA companies, but they account for around half the private sector workforce. The legislation demands that both genders must be represented if there are two or more employee directors. This rule does not apply if one gender makes up less than 20% of the workforce. There are 23 different pieces of legislation in Norway covering representation for different types of companies, from small, private, profit-making limited companies, to banks, foundations, state agencies, and universities.[5] Some industries are exempt from the requirement of having employee directors, including newspapers and foreign shipping companies.

Table 1: Representation of workers in decision-making bodies of a company

Legislation Company body Minimum no. employees % employees demanding participation Number of elected employees
Norwegian Limited Liability Companies Act) (Lov om aksje-selskaper - aksjeloven) Board of supervising directors (Styre)

Minimum three persons

More than 30 More than half of employees One third of Styre members plus one observer

Source: NOU Norges offentlige utredninger 2010: 1 [5]

These regulations form the foundation for worker participation in the decision-making bodies within enterprises. Some delegates have voting rights, while some only have speaking or observation rights.

Worker participation – social partner agreements

Participation rights are not only regulated in legislation. They are also covered in nationwide collective agreements between trade unions and employers. The most important basic agreement providing the framework for employee representation is between Norway’s largest union confederation, LO, and its largest employers’ association, NHO [7] (Hovedavtalene, Basic Agreement, BA). This agreement covers topics like payment rules, pay increases, minimum or ordinary wage rates, overtime or shift work compensation, working hours, and holidays. These agreements run for a period of three years and also regulate industrial relations and cooperation. The tradition of worker participation, which started back in 1935, is continued by the latest agreement for 2010 - 2013 [7] between employers’ associations and the national trade union umbrella organisation. The very first agreement between employers’ organisations and unions included a paragraph on the influence of workers in management decisions.[5] The following excerpt is taken from the introduction to Chapter 9 of the current agreement on information, cooperation and co-determination: “…by influence and cooperation the employees shall contribute with their experience and knowledge to create the economic preconditions for a positive development of the enterprise, for safe and good working conditions for the best of the enterprise and the workers”.[7]

Worker participation – trade unions in enterprises

The Basic Agreement (BA) states the need for “good and trusting relationships between the employees, their union representatives and the enterprise”; and that “the management of the enterprise, the employees and their union representatives have a common duty to take the initiative and actively support and contribute towards cooperation.” This principle is detailed in a number of chapters [7], where it states that union representatives must be consulted by the employer concerning all relevant company developments. Moreover, they are to be involved in disputes between management and individual employees, and also active in implementing company-specific aspects of national or industry-level agreements. Regarding information and consultation, the mana¬gement should have meetings with the elected union representatives on at least a monthly basis, according to the agreement. The major topics of discussion are the economic standing of the company, including current production, pay, working conditions, working environment and current major company activities. Documentation of the financial situation should be provided and the annual financial statement should be given to the union representatives. If major changes are planned, union representatives should have an opportunity to present their opinion, arguments and counter arguments, which must be recorded in written minutes. Two topics are mentioned of particular interest, which require immediate attention and consultation: a) changes in working conditions or the reorganisation of production systems; and b) plans to increase or reduce the number of employees, including plans for mergers, outsourcing, closures, or changes to the legal form.

Worker participation – works councils

According to the legislation, elected works council (bedriftsutvalg) should be set up in companies with 100 or more employees. It can be seen as a second body for representation, working in parallel to the union representatives. Observers note that their role is different to works councils in other countries, in that its main function is to improve competitiveness. As the basic agreement states: “the main task of the works council is, through cooperation, to work for the most efficient production possible and for maximum wellbeing of all who work” at the company”.[7]

Consequently, many observers see the trade union representatives as the major channel for worker representation. To quote ETUI: “In Norway, works councils exist alongside union representation in larger companies, but their role is essentially to improve competitiveness, rather than represent employees” [8] The works council may not deal with questions relating to pay or working hours or questions relating to the interpretation of collective agreements. These are the exclusive responsibility of the union representatives. In the public sector, the works council structure does not exist – the agreements for the sector [8] states that the right to participation is “best exercised” by union representatives.

Worker participation – coverage and practice

According to official statistics, more than 90,000 companies (with 1,280.000 employees) are registered as stock companies (aktieselskap - A/S). These enterprises must adhere to the OSH laws mentioned above. This is just under half the companies in Norway (190,000). Approximately 6,000 have over 30 employees - the minimum level for the legal right to participate. These 6.000 companies employ around 770,000 workers, equal to one third of all employees (2.5 million). The rest are small enterprises, e.g. farmers, etc. In 2007, 53% of companies with 30 or more employees had an employee director. The percentage depended on the size; 74% of companies with 200+ employees had employee directors, 59% with 50 - 199 employees, and 37% with 30 – 49 employees.[9]

OSH and worker participation

Introduction

The basic legislation for OSH in Norway is laid down in the Working Environment Act (WEA) - Arbeidsmiljølaget AML.[10] It was first issued in 1977, and a general revision took place in 2009. The term Working Environment is interpreted more broadly than in areas of the EU, covering aspects of work organisation and well-being. Consultation rights, in particular, go beyond OSH, encompassing economic activities and human resources strategies within companies.

Some authors argue that AML consultation rights in non-unionised companies are a kind of substitute for the consultations rights based on agreements by the social partners. ETUI states:

“In non-unionised companies the only rights are those which come from the 2006 legislation (AML), which states only that employers with 50 or more employees must inform and consult with employee representatives without providing any detail on their election or rights.” [8]

The governmental report draws similar conclusions: “The legislative rights of the workers on participation and influence, as settled in the WEA and effective for every worker, can reduce this difference in standards and expectations.” [5].

The rights of OSH representatives (Verneombud, VO) and OSH committees (AMU) were extended by the Working Environment Act of 1977. The rights to be informed and consulted (drøfting) were extended, and the right to stop extremely dangerous work was introduced (stansingsrett).

Section 8-2 of the WEA mentions three specific subjects for consultation: “ (1) The obligation regarding information and consultation pursuant to section 8-1 includes: a) Information concerning the current and expected development of the undertaking’s activities and economic situation, b) Information and consultation concerning the current and expected workforce situation in the undertaking, including any cutbacks and the measures considered by the employer in this connection, c) Information and consultation concerning decisions that may result in considerable changes in the organisation of work or conditions of employment.” [10]

In companies with elected trade union representative(s), the AML specifically permits collective agreements to take precedence over its terms. The collective agreement can go beyond provisions stipulated in the legal framework. However, the WEA sets minimum standards for non-unionised companies.

In 2006, amendments were made to implement the EU’s 2002 information and consultation directive (2002/14/EC).[8]


Company level

There are two major types of representation: the OSH representative (VO) for small companies (<30 staff) and the OSH committee (AMU) for larger companies (>30 staff).

OSH representative (Verneombud) - VO

Election principles of the VO

According to the Working environment Act (§6,1), in every company with over 10 employees, an OSH representative (VO) must be elected (by all employees).[10] Safety representatives should be elected in all companies, but exceptional arrangements can be agreed in companies with less than 10 employees.

The number of VO depends on the number of employees, and the type of work. If the company is divided into different departments or has shift work, the VOs should be elected per shift or department / division. [10]

A VO is elected for two years. If trade unions organise the majority of workers, they can designate a worker to become a VO. If there is more than one VO, a main VO must be elected.

Tasks and Powers

The tasks of the VO are described in detail in the WEA (§ 6–2).[10] The VO is the representative of the workers for all OSH and working environment issues.

The VO should observe and ensure that the enterprise follows OSH regulations, and that work is performed in a safe and healthy manner. They must keep the employer informed, but they themselves cannot take measures; this remains the responsibility of the employer.

Chapter 6.2 of the WEA highlights typical work of a VO [10]:

  • Observe the safety of machines, technical equipment and handling of chemicals
  • Ensure that all safety installations and Personal Protective Equipment are available and used
  • Ensure that the employer instructs workers well on safety and health issues
  • Ensure that work accidents are reported.

The employer has to bear all costs of the work of the OSH representatives (working time for OSH issues, training etc.) § WEA, § 5-2.[10] The work shall be performed during working time and no disadvantages (loss of income etc.) should arise for the VO. Details are laid down by the Ministry.

The employer shall also ensure that safety representatives receive the necessary training. Chapter 6-5 sets 40 hours training as standard.

The AML (Arbeidsmiljølaget) introduced a significant right in 1977 (§ 6-3)[10] - the safety representative’s right to halt dangerous work: “(1) If a safety representative considers that the life or health of employees is in immediate danger and such danger cannot be averted by other means, work may be halted until the Labour Inspection Authority has decided whether work may be continued. Work may only be halted to the extent the safety representative considers necessary in order to avert danger.”

The VO has to report the reasons for his decisions to the employer. If no solution between VO and employer can be reached, the work remains stopped until the labour inspection comes and makes a decision.

Working environment committees - AMU

In addition to the VO, a working environment committee (AMU) must be set up to deal with health and safety issues in companies with 50 or more employees. An AMU can be established in companies with 20 - 50 employees, if the majority of workers request it. The employer also has the right to establish an AMU, and one must be set up if the labour inspector considers it necessary. The AML obligation to establish working environment committees provides these options (§7-1).[10] (1) “Undertakings which regularly employ at least 50 employees shall have a working environment committee on which the employer, the employees and the occupational health service are represented. Working environment committees shall also be formed in undertakings with between 20 and 50 employees when so required by any of the parties at the undertaking. Where working conditions so indicate, the Labour Inspection Authority may decide that undertakings with less than 50 employees shall establish a working environment committee.”

Composition and election

The employer and employees shall have an equal number of representatives on the committee. Representatives of both shall be alternately elected as committee chairman. The representatives of the occupational health service on the committee have no vote. When votes are equally divided, the chairman has the casting vote.

Tasks and rights

The health and safety committee is not only a consultative body, it also makes decisions on working conditions. The committee can take binding decisions on specific measures (AML, §7-2) [10], such as:

  • Training, instruction and information activities that are significant for the working environment
  • Plans that require the consent of the Labour Inspection Authority, pursuant to section 18-9
  • Plans that may be of material significance for the working environment
  • such as plans for construction work, purchase of machines, rationalisation,
  • Work processes, and preventive safety measures
  • Establishment and maintenance of the company’s systematic health,
  • Environment and safety work
  • Health and welfare issues related to working hour arrangements.

Coverage and practice of worker participation in OSH

The figures from 2009 in the following table show the implementation of AML regulation on VOs and AMUs. According to this study, over 83% of companies have a VO, 61% have an AMU, and 67% of companies with >50 staff have an AMU. 37% follow the rules on active and regular information and consultation, according to §8 of the AML.[10]

Table 2: Coverage – VO and AMU in Norwegian companies

Percentages All answers Employers Workers
Private Public Communities Private Public Communities
VO ((HSR) 83 83 99 92 77 91 85
AMU

(OSH COM all)

61 62 91 83 53 74 58
AMU 50+

(OSH COM 50 +)

67 80 91 84 64 75 58
OSH COM 50 +plus

inf consultation

37 50 76 54 33 45 32

Source: Falkum et al.[11]

Studies have been published on the influence of workers in practice; in general, Norwegian workers feel that they have great influence.

Tripartite concertation and social dialogue on an national level

Norway has a longstanding tradition of tripartite cooperation and social dialogue on labour market policies and social policies. The high degree of organisation - both of trade unions (53% of workers) [9] and employer organisations - is certainly a good foundation for effective dialogue. Social partner organisations are included in public deliberative committees and political decision-making relevant to working life. One of the most important tripartite dialogues is concerned with income policy, wages and social benefits - Solidarity Alternative (Solidaritetsalternativet).[12]

Various social policy and labour market institutions and consulting bodies are organised according to the principles of tripartite concertation. Employers and employees meet regularly in the government’s so-called ‘contact committee on incomes policy’ (Kontaktutvalg for inntektspolitikken), where matters related to wages are discussed. Employers and workers are also represented in a number of public committees on working life.[12] The most relevant example of social dialogue on working conditions is the Agreement on an Inclusive Working life (Inkluderende arbeidsliv).[13] The essential goal in its first period (2001 - 2006) was to retain older workers and increase recruitment of people with impaired functionality. The goal has now been updated, to improve recruitment chances for all vulnerable groups, such as immigrants. The next important goals are to reduce sickness absence and the number of people on disability pensions. The parties to the agreement are the major trade union confederations, employer organisations, and Government. There are nine employer and employee organisations, covering all the labour market. The target of the agreement is to cover most parts / sectors of the labour market. Companies and organisations can enter into individual Inclusive Working (IW) agreements.[13]

References

  1. ILO – International Labour Organization, Convention concerning Occupational Safety and Health and the working environment C155, 1981. Available at: [1]
  2. ILO – International Labour Organization, General Survey concerning the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), the Occupational Safety and Health Recommendation, 1981 (No. 164), and the Protocol of 2002 to the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981, International Labour Conference 98th Session, Report III (Part 1B), 2009. Available at: [2]
  3. Directive 2002/14/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2002 establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community - Joint declaration of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on employee representation, OJ L 080 , 23.03.2002, pp. 0029 – 0034. Available at: [3]
  4. Forskrift av 1. april 2005 nr. 173 om arbeidstakernes rett til innflytelse i europeiske selskaper og forskrift av 3. november 2006 nr. 1213 om arbeidstakernes rett til innflytelse i europeiske samvirkeforetak) (Ordinance Nr. 173 from April 1, 2005 on the on workers’ rights of influence in European businesses and Ordinance Nr. 1213 from November 3, 2006 on workers’ rights of influence in European corporate businesses). Available at: http://www.regjeringen.no/nb/dep/ad/dok/nouer/2010/NOU-2010-01/7.html?id=598365
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 NOU - Norges offentlige utredninger (Public reports from the Government of Norway), Medvirkning og medbestemmelse i arbeidslivet, (Participation and co-determination in Norways working life), 2010. Available at: [4]
  6. Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Norway: Industrial relations profile, no publishing date. Available at: [5]
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Hovedavtalen LO–NHO, 2010–2013 (Basic Agreement between Central Trade Union organisation LO and Central Employers organisation NHO). Available at: [6]
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Worker-participation.eu (2013). Workplace Representation. Retrieved on 18 March 2013, from: [7]
  9. Trygstad, S.C.,Hagen, I.M., Ledere i den norske modellen (Directors in the Norwegian Model), Fafo-Report, 23, 2007.
  10. 10.00 10.01 10.02 10.03 10.04 10.05 10.06 10.07 10.08 10.09 10.10 Working Environment Act, Act relating to working environment, working hours and employment protection, etc. as subsequently amended, last by Act of 19 June 2009. Available at: [8]
  11. Falkum E., Hagen, I.M., Trygstad, S.C., Bedriftsdemokratiets tilstand, Medbestemmelse, medvirkning og innflytelse i 2009 (Status of the democracy in enterprises – co-determination, participation and influence), Fafo-report nr. 35, 2009.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Eironline – European Industrial Relations Observatory On-line (2009). Norway: Industrial relations profile. Retrieved 18 March 2013, from: [9]
  13. 13.0 13.1 NAV - Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (2013). Inkluderende arbeidsliv (Inclusion into working life). Retrieved 18 March 2013, from: [10]


Links for further reading

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Worker representation and consultation on health and safety: An analysis of the findings of the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER), 2012. Available at: [11]

Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Norway: EWCO comparative analytical report on Information, consultation and participation of workers concerning health and safety in SMEs, European Working Conditions Observatory, 2010. Available at: [12]

Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Health and safety at work in SMEs: Strategies for employee information and consultation, European Working Conditions Observatory, 2010. Available at: [13]

Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Social dialogue and working conditions, 2011. Available at: [14]

Eurofound - European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Workplace employee representation in Europe, 2012. Available at: [15]

ETUI - European Trade Union Institute (2013). Countries. Retrieved on 18 March 2013, from: [16]

Contributors

Klaus Kuhl, Lothar Lissner