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Trade Unions

More than half Norway’s employees are in unions and although union density has declined slightly in recent years, union membership has increased. The majority of unions are grouped in four confederations, LO, UNIO, YS and Akademikerne. While UNIO and Akademikerne primarily organise more highly qualified employees, there is direct membership competition between LO and YS unions.

Figures published by the national statistics office Statistics Norway show that there were 1,687,660 trade unionists in Norway at the end of 2011.1 This total includes some non-working students, pensioners and others. However, three-quarters of trade union members are employed. The most recent figures from the Labour Force Survey analysed by the research body Fafo, show that in 2011 there were 1,223,948 employees who were trade union members. With some 2,365,000 employees in total in Norway in 2011, this means that 51.8% of all employees are organised in a union.2 This is slightly lower than the estimate in the ICTWSS database of union membership, which put union density at 54.6% in 2011.3 This relatively high level of union density has been achieved and maintained (see below), despite that fact that unlike Norway’s Nordic neighbours, unemployment benefits are not paid through the unions.

There are four union confederations in Norway, and LO is by far the largest, with members across the economy, although it has fewer members with higher levels of educational qualifications. The unions affiliated to LO have 880,938 members in total and 620,000 in employment. (For LO, as for the other confederations, the total membership figures are for 2011 from Statistics Norway) The next largest grouping is UNIO with 300,486 members in total and 232,048 in employment. UNIO was founded in December 2001, following the breakup in 1997 of the AF confederation, which brought together unions organising employees with college and university qualifications. UNIO’s largest areas of membership are teachers and nurses, although it also has other significant affiliates (see below). The third largest union confederation is YS, which has 222,114 members (159,115 in employment). YS was formed in 1977 as a confederation of unions which had previously been independent and it has members in both the public and private sector. The smallest confederation is the Akademikerne, whose member unions organise professionals with degree-level education. It has 162,562 members (115,057 in employment).

There are also 121,560 members in unions which are not affiliated to any of the confederations, of whom 97,728 are employed. The largest of these non-affiliated unions is NITO. Its 68,860 members (52,136 employed) are mainly graduate engineers, who have completed at least a three-year degree programme.

In terms of the proportion of trade unionists who are employees, LO is by far the largest, accounting for 51%, followed by UNIO, with 19%, YS with 13%, Akademikerne with 9% and other union organisations, with 8%.

There are differences in the approach taken by the different confederations on the question of the extent to which pay increases should vary between industries and companies (see section on collective bargaining) and that was one of the main reasons for the breakup of the AF confederation in 1997. There is also competition for membership between the unions in LO and YS, both in the private and the public sectors.

Each of the confederations is made up of a number of individual unions, based on industrial and occupational groupings. LO has 22 individual affiliates of which the largest is Fagforbundet, formed in 2003 out of a merger of the municipal employees’ union NKF and a union organising employees in health and social care, also largely employed by the municipalities. It has 323,727 members in total (2011 figures). LO’s second largest affiliate, Fellesforbundet, is also the product of several mergers. Initially formed by five unions, largely in manufacturing plus construction, the graphical union joined it in 2006 and the hotel and restaurant workers’ union in 2007. It now has 151,137 members. LO’s other affiliates are significantly smaller. HK, which includes banking, retail, tourism, transport and a range of other service industries as well as non-manual workers in manufacturing, has 65,651 members; IE which organises workers in the oil and chemical industries and in 2009 merged with the furniture industry union, has 55,359 members; and the central government union NTL has 49,170 members. The remaining 16 LO unions range in size from 37,548 in the EL & IT Forbundet, which organises electricians and IT workers, to NISO, which has around 650 members and organises professional sportsmen and women.

Norway’s second largest confederation, UNIO, has ten affiliated unions, and as with LO, two are much larger than the rest. The largest UNIO union is the education union Utdanningsforbundet, which was created in 2002 out of a merger of two existing teachers’ unions. The bulk of Utdanningsforbundet’s 152,908 members work in primary and secondary schools, but it also has substantial membership among those working in pre-school education. The second largest UNIO union is the nurses union NSF with 95,602 members. Other medium-sized unions in UNIO are the Forskerforbundet, which organises academic-related staff in universities and research institutions and has 18,039 members, the Politiets Fellesforbund, which organises in the police and has 13,613 members and the physiotherapists union, Norsk Fysioterpeutforbund, which has 9,572 members.

YS, the third largest confederation, has 21 affiliated unions. The largest is Delta, previously known as the KFO; it has 65,459 members and organises primarily in the municipal sector. The next largest is the finance union Finansforbundet, with 39,220 members, followed by Parat, with 29,934 members, which organises across a range of industries, and Negotia, with 19,470 members, which is the largest YS union in the private sector and covers IT and sales staff, technicians and those with accounting responsibilities. Parat and Negotia were both set up in 2005 as the result of mergers. Parat was established when 2fo, which largely organised employees in the public and recently privatised sectors, merged with PRIFO, a union for private sector employees. Negotia came into existence following the merger of the private staff union NOFU with the union for communications staff.

The fourth largest confederation, Akademikerne, has 13 affiliated unions and, like LO and UNIO, its two largest affiliates make up more than half of its total membership. Akademikerne’s largest affiliate is Tekna, with 58,686 members. Its members are professional employees with an MA or equivalent in science or technology, irrespective of where they work. The second largest Akademikerne union, with 28,454 members, is the medical association, Den Norske Lægeforening, which organises doctors. Other significant Akademikerne unions are the association of business economists, Econa (formerly Siviløkonomene) with 17,771 and the lawyers’ association, Norges Juristforbund, with 17,159 members.

The LO and the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) in Norway have historically been close since their emergence at the end of the nineteenth century. (The Labour Party was founded in 1887, LO in 1899.) However, the organisational links have weakened over time, with, for example, the ability of local union branches to affiliate collectively to the Labour Party ending in 1997. Despite this, there is still a strong relationship between the two. The president of LO and the presidents of LO’s two largest affiliates, Fagforbundet and Fellesforbundet, are all members of the Labour Party’s national executive committee, and the leaderships of LO and the Labour Party meet weekly in a joint consultative committee. LO also supports the Labour Party financially at elections, although in 2009 it spread its support between the three parties of the ruling coalition, donating 5 million kroner (about €560,000) to the Labour Party, 1.5 million kroner (about €170,000) to the Socialist Left Party (SV) and 500,000 kroner (€56,000) to the Centre Party for their election campaigns.

The close link with the Labour Party is one of the issues that divides LO from the YS confederation, which emphasises its political independence. The other confederations, UNIO and Akademikerne, are also politically unaligned.

The number of trade unionists in Norway has gone up in recent years. Looking just at those employed, the number for all union organisations increased by 9.5% between 2000 and 2011. The confederations organising more qualified employees grew fastest over the period, with UNIO increasing its membership by 33.0% (from 2001) and Akademikerne by 32.8%, although these figures are affected by the fact that the Forskerforbundet, with around 15,000 members at the time, moved from Akademikerne to UNIO in 2006. LO and YS also grew, although less rapidly: LO increased its employed membership 7% between 2000 and 2011 and YS by 1% (from 2001). The number of members in unions not affiliated to the main confederations declined by 40% over the same period.4

Although the number of employed trade unionists increased by 9.5% between 2000 and 2011, the number of employees in Norway has grown even more rapidly over the same period, rising from 2,093,000 in the last quarter of 2000 to 2,385 in the last quarter of 20115 . As a result union density has fallen very slightly, from 53.2% in 2000 to 52.9% in 2005 and 51.8% in 2011. Rates of union membership are higher in the public sector than in the private sector, and union density is higher among women than men although this largely reflects women’s greater concentration in the public sector.6

L. Fulton (2013) Worker representation in Europe. Labour Research Department and ETUI. Produced with the assistance of the SEEurope Network, online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.