Changes in the labour market
We are now seeing some trends that are putting the Norwegian working life model under pressure. Migration and migrant workers have influenced the Norwegian labour market over the past 20 years. Overall, Norway has probably benefitted from this, but it has also created challenges. For example, employees with little education and low incomes have dropped out of the labour market because of competition from foreign workers (6).
Social dumping and atypical forms of employment – as well as the use of temporary staffing agencies, self-employment and a variety of platform services (e.g. Airbnb and Uber) – are closely linked to labour migration. We see that these developments are stronger in other countries than in Norway. Nevertheless, industries and enterprises in Norway are also significantly affected (4), and we must focus on these issues in the years ahead (7).
Before 2000, the use of temporary staffing agencies was forbidden in Norway, but since then, their use has increased, particularly in the construction and hospitality sectors and in health and care services. Earlier, so-called zero-hours contracts were common, but this was forbidden by law in 2019 (by a narrow majority in the Storting, the Norwegian parliament). The use of temporary agency workers is problematic for organised working life in that it paves the way for 'stretching' existing legislation. In addition, it is difficult for temporary agency workers to participate actively in collective HSE efforts in the company hiring them. Moreover, the hiring system challenges the collective bargaining system at both enterprise and national level.
In 2015, the Working Environment Act was amended to allow companies to employ more people on temporary work contracts. Even though the use of this type of contract has not increased in recent years, the Fougner committee is of the opinion that this liberalisation of the Act should be reversed. Norway's recently elected government has stated in its Hurdal platform that it will follow this up. As is the case with workers hired from temporary staffing agencies, it is difficult for those on short-term contracts to participate in HSE efforts, complain about adverse working conditions affecting themselves and others or highlight irregularities in the operation of the enterprise. Temporary work is common in academia and the hospitality industry, among others.
It is well-documented that public health is good in countries with minor social differences and a high degree of trust
We have seen the worst types of social dumping in connection with the use of so-called posted workers. Posted workers work in Norway but their employment contract is drawn up in another country. Over time it has become clear that Norwegian employers must ensure that posted workers have the same conditions as Norwegian employees, but it is difficult to monitor the situation. This also poses a challenge to the collective and consensus-oriented wage-setting system in Norway. Posted workers work in, for example, the construction industry.
Norway has a low percentage of self-employed workers, only 6–8 %. Elsewhere in Europe, the percentage has been increasing and now stands at 14 % (8). Many enterprises may find it convenient to use self-employed workers because this means they are not subject to the wage agreements negotiated through collective bargaining. Nor do they need to disburse sick pay. Moreover, the outsourcing of hazardous work to self-employed workers means that the enterprises concerned are not required to follow strict HSE regulations.
The Working Environment Act does not apply to self-employed workers. Self-employed workers who work primarily for one enterprise are often referred to as 'disguised employees'. Employees must follow strict rules in relation to this type of worker, but they often find 'creative' solutions to work around these. Self-employed workers have seemingly a high degree of self-determination but live under considerable insecurity in terms of their financial situation and social welfare rights if they fall ill.
In the platform economy, in which enterprises and private individuals use the services of self-employed workers, the person responsible for electronic contact between the clients and the principal plays a key role – often when it comes to pricing as well. It is very difficult to gain an overview of this area of the labour market. Nor is it part of the ordinary collaboration between employers' organisations and labour organisations in Norway. The use of platform services is common, for example, when ICT assistance is required.
The way in which working life has been organised in Norway has been successful, but we are now seeing signs that the system is in the process of change and that the impetus of the Norwegian working life model is declining
According to Statistics Norway, as many as one-third of all jobs will disappear in the course of the next 20 years due to automation and digitalisation. This will be particularly challenging for older employees and those with little or no education. These groups may find it increasingly difficult to get a job. Another challenge is that new jobs seem to be in industries in which unionisation has traditionally been weak. This will boost the trend towards a decline in union membership, which in turn will represent a serious threat to the Norwegian working life model. Tripartite collaboration, collective bargaining and the balance of power in working life depend on well-organised employers and employees.
A 'Norwegian' leadership culture has developed over many years based on dialogue, trust, co-determination and consensus-oriented decision-making. With the growing number of multinational companies and managers educated in countries such as the USA and the UK, we are seeing a trend towards the introduction of HR policies that differ from those developed in a Nordic context. This impression is confirmed by the findings of the 'co-determination barometer', which show that both employees and managers in Norwegian working life feel that co-determination opportunities have decreased in recent years (9).
In summary, the way in which working life has been organised in Norway has been successful, but we are now seeing signs that the system is in the process of change and that the impetus of the Norwegian working life model is declining (10). This is due to falling unionisation rates in the private sector, increased use of atypical employment contracts and an 'Americanised' leadership culture that can lead to less power for employees, increased social inequality and a reduction in trust. Ultimately this will have a significant impact not only on the health and well-being of employees but also on the health of the population as a whole.