Tripartism: Part of the same future – Experiences from the Norwegian social dialogue

Statement by Norwegian Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Anniken Hauglie at the session "Tripartism and Social dialogue in Norway" 7. June 2017, Geneva.

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Social dialogue is one of the fundamental principles and a tool for guaranteeing universal working rights. Even if social dialogue works well in Norway, also we have challenges in a constantly changing working life – and the social dialogue has to be maintained and renewed.  This is what this session here today will be about and it is my hope that what we present here today will be an interesting contribution to the conference!  

A characteristic feature of "The Nordic Model" is the combination of collective risk sharing and openness to globalization[1]. In Norway, we have been able to maintain relatively small wage differences combined with a competitive industry sector. Partly, this is because of a high level of coordination in wage bargaining. A compressed wage structure has not only limited inequality. It has made it lucrative for businesses to invest in the skills of workers. This has been particularly beneficial for the growth of new, and more productive, industries – and better jobs. 

Income policy cooperation

There is a broad consensus on the guidelines for wage formation. The social partners are responsible for bargaining on collective agreements, where the specific regulation on wages are decided. The authorities are responsible for institutional arrangements to support the coordination. The Prime Minister is chairing the twice-yearly meetings in the Contact Committee with the social partners. In the Technical Calculation Committee for Wage Settlements experts from the authorities, the trade unions and employers organisations prepare statistics for the bargaining rounds. These activities generate a broad consensus on the basis for the yearly bargaining session between the social partners. 

Arenas for social dialogue

The Tripartite cooperation is not limited to matters concerning wage settlement. We have a wide range of different meetings and arenas set up for the social dialogue. As Minister for Labour and Social Affairs, I regularly invite the eight main organizations of trade unions and employers to mutual meetings. In addition, I will always make myself available for informal talks with the social partners. I find that we have a mutual will to listen to each other. For the Government, it is a conscious policy to invite to cooperation and to hear the views of all organized parties in the working life.

Collaboration at company level

The collaboration at national level is based on a good working climate between the social partners at the company level. The collective agreements provide shop stewards and company-level trade unions with the right to consultation and negotiation in a range of areas. Local collaboration also establishes more shared perceptions of reality between workers and company management and lays a foundation for extended cooperation in matters concerning health and safety, reducing absence due to sickness and shaping a more inclusive workplace. 

Different views

It has to be admitted, though, we do not always reach an agreement. The employers and the employees will in many cases have diverging views. The government may prioritize differently from what the organizations want. The trade unions may be disappointed when the Government doesn`t share their view. However, such disagreement does not threaten the fundamental willingness to cooperate that characterizes the Norwegian labour market. 

The advantages of an organized working life

Why is it important for the government to listen to the trade unions, as we often do in Norway? And why does the government give priority to tripartite consultations in a wide range of issues?

As a society we benefit from having an organized working life. The wage formation becomes easier when a majority of workers are organized in trade unions that are able to handle an internal coordination between workers in different industries and sectors. A majority of companies have seen it as favourable to be member of an employer's organization. The existence of well-organized social partners on both sides has made society reforms possible and brought valuable agreements. These last years the Government, LO, NHO and the other social partners have put important issues on the agenda like efforts against undeclared work and indecent working conditions,  integrating refugees and other newcomers in the labour market and stepping up the coordination on vocational training. LO and NHO will in more detail describe how they cooperate and how they approach the Government together to draw attention to subjects like those I briefly mentioned. 

Concluding remarks

Finally, I will stress that tripartite collaboration is a method or procedure we have integrated in our "day-to-day" work no matter who are in charge of government. It is both a bottom up and a top-down exercise. It has to involve companies at local level and the government has to facilitate the dialogue with the social partners. The politicians and the social partners share a commitment to compromise and seek consensus to solve problems and upcoming challenges. It takes time but it builds trust and legitimacy in the society. Tripartism works as a living way to address difficult questions and provide fair and legitimate answers, which, if perfect to nobody, are acceptable for all.

Thank you for your attention! 



[1] Torben Andersen et al. "The Nordic Model – Embracing globalization and sharing risks". The Research Institute of the Finnish Economy (ETLA) 2007.