Bargaining and Participation in Norway

Article excerpt

Changes in the Bargaining System

Levels and Structures of Unionisation

The level of unionisation has been relatively stable in Norway in the last four decades (between 53 and 57 percent). Up to 1977, LO was the only union confederation, and the organisation had almost a monopoly on organising employees, with the exception of some high-earning white-collar groups. In 1976/77, YS (the Confederation of Vocational Unions) and AF (the Federation of Norwegian Professional Associations) were established, and this created a new climate of competition for members between the (confederations as well as between their member unions. In 1977, LO organised 38.1 percent of the employees while the unions outside LO (YS, AF and unions outside any federation) organised 15.4 percent of the employees. By 1992 LO organised 31.9 percent, and the unions outside LO had increased their share to 25.3 percent. (See Table 1)

The level of unionisation is very high in the public sector, around 80 percent. In the private sector it is below 50 percent. Wholesale, retail, hotels, restaurants and catering have the lowest levels of unionisation.

The term "unionisation" disguises the fact that the various organisations are founded on different principles. Most unions in AF are either professional or semi-professional unions, and most of the unions outside any federation are semi-professional unions. The unions in YS are white-collar unions, but they also function as vocational organisations. Most of them compete directly with LO for members.

In principle, LO seeks to recruit members from all groups of employees but, partly due to the fact that they have a long history of pursuing the interests of low-wage employees in wage negotiations, they have not been able to attract the high-wage groups. This has paved the way for the competing unions and (confederations. The AF members are, for the most part, employees in the professions or semi-professions in the public sector. This includes the well-paid strata of highly educated wage-earners, but there are also self-employed groups such as medical doctors. However, the differences are also ideological. AF can be said to base its actions on group interests, while LO is committed to class solidarity and the Labour Party. YS has members with a similar level of wages as the LO, but it presents itself as a non-political alternative to LO (Hogsnes 1994,106-109).

LO is almost in a monopoly-situation in private manufacturing, and it also has a strong position in the low- and middle-wage segments of the public sector. The largest LO-union organises employees in the municipalities (Norsk Kommune Forbund).

The reason for LO's relative decline is not so much that it has lost members. It is rather that it has members in declining segments of the labour-force and has been less successful than the other organisations in attracting members from the segments that are increasing. This includes the professions and other highly educated groups in the public sector as well as in private services. In addition, unionisation has been growing in the last twenty years among some of these groups (Hogsnes 1994,115-116).

The union structure and organisational principles of LO have prevented professional and vocational unions from seeking affiliation. In some cases parallel competing unions have been established within LO. The largest and most influential unions in LO are organised according to sector and/or branch principles, across vocational and educational dividing lines. Professional interests lose priority in this structure, which is of concern for some of the unions outside LO.

By contrast with the labour side, the structure of the employer side has become less fragmented. NHO (the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Trade), which is LO's counterpart in private-sector wage-negotiations, resulted from a merger between The Norwegian Employers' Confederation (NAF), the Federation of Norwegian Industries (Norges Industriforbund) and Commercial Employers Organisation (Handelens Arbeidsgiverforening) in 1989. …