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Trade Unions

Half Norway’s employees are in unions and this figure has remained stable over the last 10 years, while union membership has increased. Most unions are grouped in four confederations, LO, UNIO, YS and Akademikerne. While UNIO and Akademikerne primarily organise more highly qualified employees, there is membership competition between LO and YS unions.

Figures published by the national statistics office Statistics Norway show that there were almost two million (1,941,068) trade unionists in Norway at the end of 2020.[1] This total includes some non-working students, pensioners and others. However, two-thirds of trade union members are employed, a total of 1,314,640 working trade unionists.


Analysis from the research body Fafo, based on 2019 figures, shows that at point union density (the proportion of employees who were trade union members) was 50%, a figure that had remained almost unchanged over the previous 10 years.[2] This is very similar to the estimate in the OECD-AIAS database, which put union density at 49.2% in 2018.[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, accounting for around half of all union members. LO has members across the economy, although it has fewer members with higher levels of educational qualifications. The unions affiliated to LO have 970,054 members in total and 615,000 in employment. (For LO, as for the other confederations, the figures are from Statistics Norway and are for December 2020.) The next largest grouping is UNIO with 380,803 members in total and 271,733 in employment. UNIO was founded in December 2001after the breakup of an earlier confederation (AF), when it 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 228,824 members in total and 152,336 in employment. YS was formed in 1977 as a confederation of unions which had previously been independent. YS has members in both the public and private sectors, and it’ affiliates are often in competition with LO unions. The smallest confederation is the Akademikerne, whose member unions organise professionals with degree-level education. It has 231,000 members in total and 180,000 in employment.


There are also 130,387 members in unions which are not affiliated to any of the confederations, of whom 95,567 are employed. The largest of these non-affiliated unions is NITO, which primarily organises graduate engineers. It has 93,317 members in total and 66,755 in employment.


These figures mean that LO organises 24% of all employees, UNIO 10%, YS and Akademikerne 6% each, and other union organisations 4% (figures from Fafo for 2019).


Each of the confederations is made up of several individual unions, based on industrial and occupational groupings. LO has 25 individual affiliated unions.[4] The largest of these is Fagforbundet, which organises workers in in health and social care and local government and has 396,548 members in total (248,097 in employment). LO’s second largest affiliate, Fellesforbundet, covers workers in manufacturing construction and some services (hotels and catering). It has 164,679 members (118,134 in employment). 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 77,781 members (54,155 in employment); IE, which primarily organises workers in the oil and chemical industries, has 56,220 members (no figures for number in employment); and the central government union NTL has 53,087 members (32,027 in employment). The remaining 20 LO unions range in size from 31,000 (23,738 in employment) in FO, which organises social workers and others, to unions with fewer than 1,000 members. The authors’ union Forfatterforbundet has 410 members, for example.[5]


Norway’s second largest confederation, UNIO, has 13 affiliated unions.[6] As with LO, two are much larger than the rest. The largest is the education union Utdanningsforbundet, which has 183,184 members (121,507 in employment). Most work in primary and secondary schools, but the union also has a substantial membership among those working in pre-school education. The second largest UNIO union is the nurses’ union NSF with 122,279 members (89,113 in employment). Other medium-sized unions in UNIO are the Forskerforbundet, which organises academic-related staff in universities and research institutions and has 23,780 members (19,573 in employment), the Politiets Fellesforbund, which organises in the police and has 17,416 members (14,381 in employment) and the physiotherapists union, Norsk Fysioterpeutforbund, which has 10,022 members (8,498 in employment).


YS, the third largest confederation, has 13 affiliated unions.[7] The largest is Delta, which has 89,713 members (48,862 in employment) and organises primarily in local government. The next largest is Parat, with 41,157 members (30,436 in employment), which organises across a range of industries both the public and private sectors. It is followed by the finance union Finansforbundet, with 31,551 members (23,516 in employment) and Negotia, with 21,624 members (17,908 in employment), which organises workers in the private sector, primarily administrative and ICT staff.


The fourth largest confederation, Akademikerne, has 13 affiliated unions[8] 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 86,8668 members (69,000 in employment). 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 37,375 members (27,744 in employment), is the medical association, Den Norske Lægeforening, which organises doctors. Other significant Akademikerne unions are the association of business economists, Econa with 25,468 members (20,772 in employment) and the lawyers’ association, Norges Juristforbund, with 20,743 members (16,389 in employment).


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. 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 board, and the leaderships of LO and the Labour Party meet every two weeks in a joint cooperation committee (Samarbeidskomiteen).


LO and some of its affiliated unions also support the Labour Party financially at elections, although in recent elections they have also given smaller amounts to other parties.[9]


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


The number of trade unionists in Norway has grown in recent years. Between 2010 and 2020, the total number of trade unionists increased by 17.0%, rising from 1,658,786 to 1,941,068, and the number of trade unionists in employment grew by 12.7%, from.1,166,145 to 1,314,640.[10] However, not all confederations grew at the same pace, particularly in relation to union members in employment.


Looking at total membership, all groups of unions recorded growth between 2010 and 2020, but while LO grew by 11.3%, YS by 5.2%, and the unions not affiliated to the main confederations by 8.6%, the confederations organising employees with higher academic qualifications experienced higher growth. Membership in UNIO went up by 28.8% between 2010 and 2020, and membership in Akademikerne by 49.7% over the same period.


These trends are seen even more clearly if only union members in employment are considered. UNIO increased its employed membership by 19.6% between 2010 and 2020, while the employed membership of Akademikerne grew by 60.3%. In contrast, the number of employed members in LO grew by only 6.3% between 2010 and 2020, while the employed membership of YS fell slightly (by 3.7%), and the number of members in non-affiliated unions grew by 6.2%.


The strong membership growth in the confederations for more academically qualified employees means that union density remained stable despite an overall increased in the number of employees in Norway, which went up by 10.0% between 2010 and 2020.[11] Figures calculated by Fafo indicate density was 51% in 2010 and then remained unchanged a 50% between 2011 and 2019, while the figures for 2020 (published after the Fafo study) suggest that it increased to 51% in that year.


Rates of union membership are higher in the public sector (79%) than in the private sector (36%), and union density is higher among women (57%) than men (44%), although this largely reflects women’s greater concentration in the public sector.[12]

[1] The figures for total trade union membership and the membership of individual unions come from the statistics published on union members by Statistics Norway and, unless otherwise stated, relate to 31 December 2020 (Trade union members and strikes). See https://www.ssb.no/statistikkbanken/selectvarval/Define.asp?subjectcode=&ProductId=&MainTable=ArbgiverNHO&nvl=&PLanguage=1&nyTmpVar=true&CMSSubjectArea=kultur-og-fritid&KortNavnWeb=arborg&StatVariant=&checked=true

[2] Organisasjonsgrader, tariffavtaledekning og arbeidskonflikter 2018/2019 by Kristine Nergaard, Fafo, 2020, https://www.fafo.no/images/pub/2020/10332.pdf  (Accessed 25.05.2021)

[3] OECD and AIAS (2021), Institutional Characteristics of Trade Unions, Wage Setting, State

Intervention and Social Pacts, OECD Publishing, Paris www.oecd.org/employment/ictwss-database.htm (Accessed 25.05.2021)

[4] LO website https://www.lo.no/hvem-vi-er/ (Accessed 25.05.2021)

[5] Forfatterforbundet website https://forfatterforbundet.no/hvem-kan-bli-medlem-i-forfatterforbundet/ (Accessed 25.05.2021)

[6] Unio website https://www.unio.no/om-unio/ (Accessed 25.05.2021)

[7] YS website https://ys.no/om-ys/ (Accessed 25.05.2021)

[8] Akademikerne website https://www.akademikerne.no/ (Accessed 25.05.2021

[9] LO gir 23 millioner kroner til rødgrønn valgkamp, Netavissen, 7 May 2021  https://www.nettavisen.no/nyheter/innenriks/lo-gir-23-millioner-kroner-til-rodgronn-valgkamp/s/12-95-3424124359 (Accessed 21.05.2021)  

[10] Own calculation based on Statistics Norway for all the total membership figures and membership in employment from 2016 onwards; the figures for members in employment from 2010 to 2015 are from Fafo (Organisasjonsgrader, tariffavtaledekning og arbeidskonflikter 2018/2019)

[11] The number of employees went up from 2,313,000 in 2010 to 2,544,000 in 2020. Statistics Norway, 09733: Employees, by work hours arrangement, sex, condition of appointment, contents and year.

[12] Organisasjonsgrader, tariffavtaledekning og arbeidskonflikter 2018/2019 by Kristine Nergaard, Fafo, 2020. These figures are for 2018 and are based on administrative data. Labour Force Survey figures for 2017 show an overall higher union density figure of 52% and estimate density at 80% in the public sector and 37% in the private sector.

L. Fulton (2021) National Industrial Relations, an update (2019-2021). Labour Research Department and ETUI (online publication). Online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.