Who can initiate Labour Court proceedings?
In principle, the parties to cases before the Labour Court are the social partners.
As a rule, only the central federations that are parties to a collective agreement can initiate proceedings. If a collective agreement is part of a larger set of agreements, it is the parties to the supreme agreement that must bring an action before the Labour Court.
Particular provisions apply to special agreements in the state sector, where each of the parties to the special agreement is competent to bring legal action.
If a claim is filed against named members of an association or other named persons, the persons in question must be summoned along with the association, cf. the Labour Disputes Act Section 35 fourth paragraph.
When initiating proceedings before the Labour Court, the parties to an agreement must have attempted to resolve the dispute through negotiations. Records or minutes of such negotiations, or other documentation that negotiations have been attempted, must be enclosed with the writ of summons. The Labour Court cannot accept the case if such documentation is not submitted, cf. the Labour Disputes Act section 35 third paragraph and section 45 fourth paragraph.
The Labour Court is a specialist court and the highest court in its field. The court is based in Oslo, but its territorial jurisdiction covers all of Norway. The activities of the Labour Court are regulated by Act No 9 of 27 January 2012 relating to Labour Disputes (the Labour Disputes Act) and Act No 2 of 18 July 1958 relating to Civil Service Disputes (the Civil Service Disputes Act) Chapter 6.
The Labour Court’s area of authority is primarily defined in the Labour Disputes Act Section 34 first paragraph, cf. Section 1 letter i) and Sections 8 and 9, and the Civil Service Disputes Act Section 24.
The Labour Court hears disputes concerning the ‘validity, interpretation or existence’ of collective agreements and ‘demands founded on a collective agreement’. The Labour Court’s jurisdiction thus also includes disputes about whether collective agreements have been breached, and cases involving breach of the statutory peace obligation of the Labour Disputes Act and the Civil Service Disputes Act. Cases concerning liability in damages for breaches of collective agreements and unlawful work stoppages are also decided by the Labour Court.
To summarise, the Labour Court has judicial powers in
- disputes concerning the validity, interpretation and existence of collective agreements
- disputes concerning whether industrial action is in breach of the peace obligation enshrined in a collective agreement or the Labour Disputes Act
- matters relating to compensation for breach of collective agreements or the statutory peace obligation
The court has an independent obligation to ensure that cases are fully elucidated.
The Labour Court has exclusive jurisdiction in its field, and it is the court of first and last instance. This means that proceedings concerning matters that fall within the court’s jurisdiction cannot be brought before the ordinary courts. The Labour Court’s judgments are final and, with very few exceptions, cannot be appealed.
The Labour Court can also decide cases concerning individual claims arising from an employment contract if the claim will be immediately settled through a decision on a collective agreement dispute in the same case, cf. the Labour Disputes Act Section 34 fifth paragraph. Disputes concerning such claims usually fall under the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts.
The main proceedings
Main proceedings before the Labour Court are usually open to the public in the same way as in the ordinary courts, unless otherwise decided in individual cases, cf. the Labour Disputes Act Section 54 first paragraph.
Seven judges preside over each Labour Court case: three professional judges, two appointed based on nominations by employee organisations, and two appointed based on nominations by employer organisations. Under special circumstances the court may have a different composition, cf. the Labour Disputes Act section 38 fourth and fifth paragraph.
The proceedings are chaired by one of the court’s professional judges, and are usually held as oral hearings. The Act provides for a written hearing if both parties consent and the court does not object.