The Civil Service Disputes Act

The Civil Service Disputes Act, Act No 2 of 18 July 1958, is largely based on the same principles as the Labour Disputes Act, but is adapted to the special circumstances in the civil service.

The Civil Service Disputes Act (full text in Norwegian) fra Lovdata

The Civil Service Disputes Act of 1958

The relationship between the state and its civil servants was considered already during the preparatory work on Norway’s first Labour Disputes Act of 1915. However, it was concluded that the position of the civil service was so distinctive that the rules regulating the resolution of ordinary labour law disputes could not necessarily be applied to the relationship between the state and its civil servants. The outcome was that the Labour Disputes Act would only apply to state employees who worked on a piecework basis or had a period of notice of no more than 14 days and who were not regarded as civil servants in the sense of the General Civil Penal Code, i.e. in that they exercised public authority. This arrangement was upheld in the Labour Disputes Act of 5 May 1927. After a legislative amendment on 28 July 1949, the law applied to the above-mentioned state employees who had a period of notice shorter than two months.

The Civil Service Act of 15 February 1918 introduced special civil servant councils charged with safeguarding the interests of civil servants in matters relating to service and pay conditions, and their right to state their opinion on service issues and conditions. This system did not give civil servants the right to demand negotiations, however, and it did not become as important as expected.

Shortly after the Civil Service Act had entered into force, the committee known as the Civil Servants Committee was appointed by a Royal Decree of 3 June 1919. Its remit was to examine the issue of mediation and arbitration in service and employment relationships between the public authorities (the state or municipalities) and their civil servants and workers.

Nothing much came of the Civil Servants Committee’s recommendation. A report was submitted to the Storting (Report No 1 to the Storting for 1928) in which the Ministry of Social Affairs limited itself to proposing that the matter be ‘submitted to the Storting for its information and possibly an exchange of opinions to provide guidance to the administration during the continued deliberations on the matter’.

The issue of civil servants’ right to negotiate would soon come up again, however. In the late 1920s, the civil servants took legal action against the Norwegian state to have the lawfulness of a wage cut of 10% adopted by the Storting reviewed. This court case formed the backdrop to the 1933 Negotiation Act. The Negotiation Act of 1933 gave the state’s civil servants a statutory right of negotiation. It also created a separate court, the civil service tribunal, which was charged with considering disputes between the state and the organisations concerning the interpretation and implementation of the ordinary pay and working conditions.

The Negotiation Act Committee

In many ways, the Negotiation Act of 1933 was a milestone for Norwegian civil servants. Despite both hidden and obvious shortcomings, it proved very durable. It was not until the Act had been in force for about 20 years that the organisations’ demands for a revision of the law gained sufficient strength in April 1951 for the Ministry of Finance to agree to appoint a committee, known as the Negotiation Act Committee. The committee’s remit was limited and formulated with a view to discussing possible changes to the provisions governing which matters should be subject to negotiation and which organisations and groups of civil servants could be recognised as having a right of negotiation. On the other hand, new questions of principle, such as the settlement of disputes of interest and matters relating to mediation, wage arbitration boards, the right to strike and the creation of binding time-limited agreements between the state and the civil servants’ organisations, were not to be discussed.

The Negotiation Act Committee submitted its recommendation on 21 December 1953. In principle, the recommendation took the view that the state’s civil servants should have a negotiating system that was as comprehensive as the one that applied in the rest of the labour market. The committee therefore proposed that civil servants should have the same right to demand negotiations as granted to workers covered by the basic agreement between the Norwegian Employers’ Confederation (N.A.F.) and the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO). The Ministry of Finance did not consider the proposal from the Negotiation Act Committee on its merits.

The wage disputes of 1954 and 1955

In time, both the civil servants and the state came to regard the Negotiation Act of 1933 as unsatisfactory. This was particularly clearly demonstrated during a wage dispute in state schools in Oslo in 1954 and among civil servants working in the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s programme department in 1955. In both cases, negotiations proved unsuccessful. However, because of the special rules on termination of the collective agreement that applied, the group of civil servants in question had already gone on strike before the case was considered by the Storting. The Storting’s Administration Committee therefore stated the following in Recommendation No 22 to the Storting for 1955:

‘This situation put unnecessary pressure on the Storting and the Administration Committee in their work on these matters. For this reason, among others, the committee finds it necessary to consider whether endeavours should be made to arrive at provisions for regulating pay conditions between the state and its civil servants that, all things considered, can lead to a more satisfactory resolution of disputes in this area than the rules have so far allowed for.

The committee requests the Government to commission a broad report on the question of changing how wage negotiations between the state and its civil servants are conducted, and to submit the report – if relevant, accompanied by a proposal from the Government – to the Storting as soon as possible.’

This request won broad support during the Storting’s consideration of the recommendation.

In Recommendation No 89 to the Odelsting for 1957, the Storting’s reinforced Standing Committee on Local Government stated the following during its consideration of the act relating to the prohibition of collective work stoppages etc. for public servants

‘During its deliberations on this matter, the committee has been strengthened in its view that there is a great need for a new act on negotiations for civil servants that sets out clear guidelines for how negotiations with the state should be conducted and the results of negotiations implemented.’

The Civil Service Disputes Committee

The request from the Storting’s Administration Committee in connection with the dispute at the broadcasting corporation resulted in the following decision by Royal Decree of 28 May 1955: ‘That a committee be appointed to examine which negotiation arrangement is believed to be most satisfactory for the state as well as for its civil servants, workers and their organisations for deciding pay and working conditions, and to draft the necessary legislation.’

In the recommendation on which the Royal Decree was based, the committee (the Civil Service Disputes Committee) was assigned the task of examining whether a scheme should be introduced for civil servants to whom the Labour Disputes Act did not apply that would, in whole or in part, correspond to the arrangements that applied in the rest of the labour market – with time-limited collective agreements, the resolution of disputes arising during the collective agreement period by court proceedings, compulsory mediation if agreement is not reached through negotiations, and the right to have unresolved disputes resolved by wage arbitration boards. It was also assumed that the committee would consider the administrative and constitutional issues that would arise if the arrangements in force were to be amended.

The Civil Service Disputes Committee submitted its recommendation, and a draft Act relating to Civil Service Disputes, in January 1956. On several important points, the draft was dramatically different from the wage determination arrangement that the Negotiation Act of 1933 stipulated for the state’s civil servants. The Civil Service Disputes Committee’s proposal built on the following main principles:

The ministry’s consideration of the matter

The Civil Service Disputes Committee’s recommendation was submitted to the ministries and civil servants’ organisations for their opinion. The Ministry of Pay and Prices also held informal discussions with the organisations that had right of negotiation. Professor, Dr. jur. Kristen Andersen submitted a legal opinion at the request of the ministries. The Ministry of Pay and Prices then submitted its draft for a new Negotiation Act, which was circulated to all the civil servants’ organisations for their opinion. The ministry then drafted a bill.

The ministry’s draft was largely based on the Civil Service Disputes Committee’s proposal, but differed from it on some points, including the reorganisation of the former civil service tribunal proposed by the committee. On this point, the bill stated that disputes of law that arose in the civil service should also be heard by the Labour Court, while disputes of interest should usually be considered by the National Wages Board. The proposal that disputes could only be brought before the pay committee if both parties agreed was also changed. Instead, the ministry proposed that each of the parties should be able to bring such disputes before the committee.

The Storting’s consideration

The Storting largely approved the draft bill. The bill was considered by the Odelsting on 13 June and by the Lagting on 19 June 1958. The Act entered into force on 5 September 1958.

Read more in Alsos, K., Seip. Å. A., Nygaard. P. (2016) I arbeidsfredens tjeneste, Arbeidsretten gjennom hundre år. Oslo, Pax