A Scandinavian derogation

For once this is not an article about a derogation of the Swedish variety! Norway’s largest workers’ organisation, The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) has announced that it will not support the implementation of the EU Temporary Agency Workers Directive which intends to offer agency workers more protection and make it easier for employers to hire staff. A national strike was held on 18 January 2012 with over 150,000 workers protesting against the directive’s implementation.

The Norwegian Working Environment Act made permanent employment the standard model in Norway in 1994. Only 0.8% of the workforce is made up of agency workers, this wholly consisting of contractors (many of whom are foreign), compared to a European average of 1.5%, which is not solely made up of foreigners and contractors.   

If more protection is offered to agency workers, the LO fears that there will be a rise in work of this kind, and given the appeal of temporary workers for employers, there may be a reduction in permanent employees.

David Cockcroft, general secretary of the International Transport Workers Federation commented:

“Norway’s workers and their unions are upholding principles that are meant to lie at the heart of European legislation – equal treatment and equal pay for equal work. They are also defending the principle of subsidiarity: that the EU can only act to improve laws and conditions, not undermine existing legislation that is doing the job better.”

Despite the workers’ organisation’s announcement, the Norwegian government has indicated its intention to persevere with the implementation of the directive, which has exposed deep divisions as to Europe’s role in Norway. Norway is not a member of the European Union; however it is obliged to adopt and implement all EU legislation relevant to the functioning of the internal market. This recent conflict has led to questions as to whether Norway should remain within the European Economic Area itself.

Norway’s dilemma highlights the diversity of employment arrangements into which the AWD has to be implemented, with damaging results from one end of the spectrum  (Norway) to the other (the UK, where in contrast the unions wanted the AWD and no one else did!)

Use of companies by contractors is justified despite witch-hunt by press