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10. Trade Unions and Employers Associations
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10. Trade Unions and Employers Associations

Brief Description of Employees’ and Employers’ Associations

The basic legal framework of collective bargaining and collective dispute resolution is set out in labour dispute legislation, which consists essentially of the 1927 Labour Disputes Act and the 1958 PSLDA. This legislation is based on the principle of freedom of collective bargaining and contains no specific limitations on the scope of bargaining issues.

A union, according to the Labour Disputes Act, is defined as “any associations of workers or workers’ associations when the association has the purpose and interests of promoting workers’ interests to their employers.” There is no requirement that the union have its own statutes, a board, etc. A union is, however, often a member of a larger association or confederation.

The two main unions are the LO (Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions), representing employees, and the NHO (Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry), representing employers. Both unions are umbrella organisations and consist of a number of smaller unions.

The affiliated unions to LO are often vertically organised, including both blue and white collar workers, and cover both the private and the public sectors. They are actively involved in both political and judicial issues and have become powerful actors in Norwegian community and social life.

Rights and Importance of Trade Unions

The rights of trade unions are regulated in the Labour Disputes Act. Generally, trade unions have a right to enter into collective agreements. Collective bargaining agreements between employees and employers organisations are usually negotiated every other year. LO and NHO are involved in most of the collective bargaining agreements entered into in Norway and have developed the so-called Main Agreement. The Main Agreement is a framework agreement that contains the general rights and basic rules in the workplace. The Main Agreement is incorporated into the first part of all collective bargaining agreements entered into by affiliated organisations.

The Main Agreement obliges the parties to maintain industrial peace for the duration of the collective bargaining agreement, known as “the peace period”. This means that measures such as strikes and lockouts, etc., may not be employed during labour conflicts until the collective bargaining agreement has expired. Such action shall only be performed during the negotiations. Disputes about the validity or content of collective bargaining agreements and disputes arising out of the collective bargaining agreements are heard by a separate tribunal, the Labour Court.

Employees have the right to participate in the management of the workplace. They are also entitled to representation on the board of directors.

Types of Representation

Employee representatives to represent the organised employees shall be elected at every enterprise where the enterprise or the employees so demand. At enterprises with up to twenty-five employees, two employee representatives may be elected.

Number of Representatives

The number of employee representatives at enterprises with over 25 employees shall be:

from 26 to 50 employees:                                     3 employee representatives

from  51 to 150:                                                     4 employee representatives

from 151 to 300:                                                   6 employee representatives

from 301 to 500:                                                   8 employee representatives

from 501 to 750:                                                   10 employee representatives

over 750:                                                                12 employee representatives

Appointment of Representatives

Employee representatives shall be appointed from among workers of recognised ability, with experience and insight into working conditions at the enterprise. Whenever possible, they shall have worked at the enterprise or in the company as a whole for the last 2 years. Employees who act as the employer’s representative to a large extent, for instance employees in such positions of particular trust as manager or personal secretary to the management, or who represent the employer in negotiations or decisions concerning wage and employment conditions for subordinate personnel, may not be elected as employee representatives. Elections are for one calendar year. The chairperson, vice-chairperson and secretary may be elected for 2 years.

Tasks and Obligations of Representatives

Employee representatives shall be recognised as the representatives and spokespersons of the organised employees. Employee representatives have the right to comment on matters that concern the entire workforce or groups of employees in so far as this is not precluded by a collective agreement. It is a precondition that whenever they consider it necessary the shop stewards will submit questions to their fellow workers before reaching decisions. The enterprise is entitled to an answer without undue delay.

Employee representatives have the right to deal with and to try to settle amicably any grievance individual employees may have against the enterprise or the enterprise may have against individual employees. When employee representatives have a matter to discuss, they shall address themselves directly to the employer or the employer’s representative at the place of work.

They are also entitled to receive information and discuss with the management of the enterprise matters relating to the financial position of the enterprise, its production and its development – matters immediately related to the workplace and everyday operations – general wage and working conditions at the enterprise, concerning matters of reorganisation of operations and concerning matters of company law, etc.

Employees’ Representation in Management

The Norwegian Constitution gives employees the right to participate in the management of the workplace. Both the Private Limited Liability Companies Act of 1997 and the Public Limited Companies Act of 1997 entitle employees to representation on the board of directors. A majority of the employees may demand one member of the company board as well as one observer along with a deputy representative if a company has more than thirty employees and they don’t have a corporate assemble. If a company has more than fifty employees and they do not have a corporate assembly, a majority of the employees may demand that up to one-third and at least two of the company board members are employees’ representatives along with their deputy representatives.

Other Types of Employee Representative Bodies

Safety representatives shall be elected at all undertakings subject to the Working Environment Act. At undertakings with less than ten employees, the employees and the employer may agree to a different arrangement. If so, the arrangement has to be in writing. Such arrangement may involve agreeing that the undertaking shall not have a safety representative.

Furthermore, undertakings that regularly employ at least 50 employees, shall have a working environment committee, wherein 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.

The working environment committee shall make efforts to establish a fully satisfactory working environment in the undertaking. The committee shall participate in planning safety and environmental work and shall follow up on questions relating to the safety, health and welfare of the employees.

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