The Labour Disputes Act
The Labour Disputes Act, Act No 9 of 27 January 2012, replaced the Labour Disputes Act of 5 May 1927. In many ways, the 1927 Labour Disputes Act was based on the same principles as the 1915 Labour Disputes Act. The Act of 2012 primarily modernised and simplified the law, and is otherwise based on the same principles as the Act of 1915.
The Labour Disputes Act of 1915
In Norway, it was the trade unions that first raised mediation and arbitration as remedies in connection with labour conflicts. The topic was raised at a Scandinavian labour movement congress in Gothenburg in 1886. The following is quoted from a programme adopted by the congress: ‘It is our wish that any conflicts that may arise between workers and employers in the course of our efforts to improve workers’ place in society, should be resolved by peaceful means, and we therefore recommend that expert arbitration tribunals be established to deal with such conflicts.’
In 1912, the Government considered the issue of arbitration and mediation between employers and employees for the first time. A bill (Proposition No 11 to the Odelsting (1902–1903)) was put forward with a view to protecting freedom of association and creating industrial peace through mediation. Trade unions that registered in a public register would enjoy legal protection, but, in return, they had to refrain from using strikes in labour disputes before mediation had been attempted. The Storting’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs largely endorsed the proposition (Recommendation XIII to the Odelsting 1902–03), but it was never adopted into law.
In 1906, the Ministry of Trade, represented by Minister of Trade Arctander, drew up a new bill concerning freedom of association and mediation. However, this bill was shelved when the Storting decided to request a report from the Government on compulsory arbitration in 1907. The bill was presented by member of the Storting Castberg, and the following year, as Minister of Justice, he appointed a committee to consider the matter. The chairman of the committee was Advocate O. Solnørdal, and the other members were Advocate Einar Einarsen, chairman of the Workers’ National Trade Union Ole O. Lian, factory owner and member of the central board of the Norwegian Employers’ Confederation K. Myhre, and member of the Storting Thore Myrvang. In autumn 1909, the committee had drafted a bill on mediation and arbitration in labour disputes. The committee’s draft formed the basis for further work on a bill.
The main features of the committee’s proposal were compulsory mediation in all disputes between organised workers and their employers, and compulsory arbitration in disputes concerning rights and obligations under collective agreements. The committee’s majority, consisting of Solnørdal, Einarsen and Myrvang, also proposed that not only disputes of law, but also disputes of interest concerning new pay and working conditions, should be brought before an arbitration tribunal if one of the parties demanded it. However, such an arbitration award would not be binding unless it was unanimous.
The great lockout of 1911 prompted the Storting to appoint a special committee to consider the issue of mediation and arbitration. Based on an oral recommendation from this committee, the Odelsting decided the following on 19 August 1911:
‘The issue of mediation and arbitration in labour disputes will not be considered by the current Odelsting. The Government is requested to submit a statement and proposal on the matter to the next Odelsting.’
The first proposal by Minister of Justice Stang was submitted in response to this request. The proposal was put to the Storting as Proposition No 29 to the Odelsting (1912) on the preparation of an act relating to labour disputes. The main idea in this bill, as in the committee’s recommendation from 1909, was that disputes of law concerning collective agreements should be resolved through court proceedings, not industrial action. Neither of the parties in a wage dispute or other dispute of interest may initiate a work stoppage until mediation has been tried. The proposition supported the view of the committee’s minority that the parties should be entitled to take industrial action if mediation proved unsuccessful. However, all mediation processes were to include an investigation of the dispute and its reasons, so that a report could be published after the mediation containing the mediators’ proposal for how the dispute could be resolved. The idea was clearly to subject proposals to ‘the people’s verdict’.
The Storting’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs was reinforced by three additional members during its consideration of the proposition. The committee submitted a recommendation on the merits of the issue (Recommendation XXI to the Odelsting (1912), but the Odelsting postponed the matter. The committee’s majority largely endorsed the proposition. One of the most important proposed changes was that compulsory mediation should not apply to disputes of interest with non-organised employers unless this was demanded by the ministry in question. The provisions prescribing that the mediation proposal and report on the mediation be made public were also omitted from the recommendation. Moreover, the committee’s recommendation was that mediation be carried out by a single mediator, not by a mediation committee as proposed in the proposition.
A new proposition (Proposition No 11 to the Odelsting (1913)) was submitted in 1913 – Minister Stang’s second proposal. This new proposition maintained that non-organised employers should also be subject to compulsory mediation. It also maintained that a report should be made public after mediation, but left it up to the mediators to decide whether to include the proposal for resolving the dispute. It would be up to the relevant ministry or the parties to decide in each case whether to use a single mediator or a committee of mediators.
The proposition was withdrawn after the change of government in January 1913, and a new proposition was submitted on 11 April 1913 (Proposition No 23 to the Odelsting (1913)). The most important changes were the new provisions on compulsory arbitration. The King would be given the right to order, subject to the Storting’s approval, resolution of a labour dispute through arbitration if its nature or scope could endanger important public interests. Like Stang’s first proposal, the new proposition followed up the principle of ‘the people’s verdict’ by proposing that the final mediation proposal be made public after an unsuccessful mediation. The penal provisions from the older draft bills had been changed, among other things individual workers could no longer be punished for unlawful strikes, only their leaders. The new proposition also omitted previous provisions on members’ liability for damages that their unions/associations were required by law to pay.
At a meeting on 2 June 1913, the Odelsting decided to postpone the proposition’s consideration until the following year. This decision was made at the request of the Workers’ National Trade Union and the central board of the Norwegian Employers’ Confederation. The two organisations had agreed to try to prepare a joint draft bill. The committee appointed by the two organisations completed its draft on 29 October 1913. To quote:
‘The committee has endeavoured as far as possible to build on the existing royal proposition (Proposition No 23 to the Odelsting – 1913) and has only proposed changes where there is reason to fear that its provisions will give rise to difficulties or prevent the organisations’ free development in their work on endeavouring to first and foremost resolve any disputes through negotiations between the parties.’
This proposal omitted all provisions on arbitration, as well as those requiring the mediators to publish their final proposal. Moreover, no general prohibition was stipulated against taking industrial action in disputes of interest before negotiations had taken place. However, in cases where a work stoppage would endanger important public interests, the national mediator could order postponement of the stoppage pending a mediation attempt.
This proposal resulted in the Government making some changes to the existing proposition. It was proposed that the supreme mediation authority be vested in a national mediator. In minor disputes that would not damage public interests, the mediation authorities would have the option to refrain from prohibiting a work stoppage. It would also be left up to the mediation authorities to decide whether or not to make the final mediation proposal public.
The Storting’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs, reinforced by three additional members, submitted its recommendation on 27 February 1914 (Recommendation II to the Odelsting (1914). This recommendation was largely based on the final proposition with the changes proposed by the Government, but on some issues it was somewhat closer to the proposal adopted by the committee appointed by the employer and employee organisations.
As a consequence of the labour movement’s opposition to compulsory arbitration, the Government proposed at a meeting of the Odelsting on 11 may 1915 to remove these provisions from the act. The Standing Committee on Social Affairs then submitted another recommendation (Recommendation XII to the Odelsting (1915)), from which all provisions concerning voluntary and compulsory arbitration had been removed.
During the consideration of the recommendation by the Odelsting, the penal provisions were amended so that anybody who participated in an unlawful strike could be punished. Otherwise, most of the recommendation was adopted. The Lagting had a comment on the Odelsting’s decision on individual criminal liability, but withdrew it when the Odelsting upheld it decision. The Act was given assent on 6 August 1915.