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What happened to the spirit of consent?

| By Björn Lindahl, acting editor

Have we become less good at solving conflicts in the Nordic region? Are we seeing a weakening of the spirit of consent which has made it possible to reach compromises that everyone can live with? This issue of the Nordic Labour Journal looks at the debate in the five Nordic countries.

We begin in Sweden, where nine weeks have passed since the election, and the political system seems completely stuck. Many believe the established political parties must start cooperating with the Sweden Democrats, who were the election winners. For now, though, the Social Democrats, the Centre Party and the Liberals are reluctant to allow the formation of a government that needs the support of the Sweden Democrats.

When the situation is resolved and Sweden gets a new government – possibly after a fresh election – there awaits a range of labour market-related decisions which will be coloured by the final makeup of the government. We have called our main article “Nothing is sacred in the debate about the Swedish model”.

The Danish labour market researcher Per Kongshøj Madsen says there are signs that short-term political gains are being made at the expense of the Danish labour market model, known as flexicurity.

But what remains of the second part of that term – “security” – when the unemployment benefit is being gradually eroded? In 1980 it represented 63% of an average industry worker’s wage. Today that number is 47%. 

The Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä has tried to weaken employment protection for people who work in companies with ten or fewer employees, without tripartite negotiations with trade unions and employers. That led to a showdown with the unions, and Sipilä backed off.

But labour market researchers disagree on whether tripartite negotiations belong to the past or whether they are inextricably linked to the Finnish model.

In Norway, the tripartite conversation perhaps enjoys a stronger position than in any of the other Nordic countries. 8th November saw the launch of new tripartite negotiations for a new IA agreement – short for an inclusive working life. The aim is to reduce levels of sickness leave, get more people with physical handicaps into the labour market and get older people to work for longer. After 17 years, parts of the agreement have brought some results in certain areas, but the aim of getting more people with physical handicaps into jobs has not been a success. 

In Norway too, however, some warn that the Norwegian model is under threat – from the new European Labour Authority, ELA, which will be established next year. The main worry is the proposed mandate for the ELA to “mediate and resolve” disputes that for instance concern the working conditions for posted workers.

In Iceland, Drífa Snædal is the newly elected President of ASÍ, the Icelandic Confederation of Labour. She is the first female President in the confederation’s 100 year-long history.She is not worried about what is happening to employment rights, but points out that the economy changes faster in Iceland than in other Nordic countries:

“We depend on the price of fish, tourism and aluminium. If we add the weather and the forces of nature, there is no stability in Iceland. It is remarkable that the notion of stability exists at all in the Icelandic language,” she says. 

Common for all the Nordic countries is that conflicts seem to be turning ever more irreconcilable. The debate during the Nordic Council session in Oslo also had a sharper edge to it than usual.

Perhaps politicians and the social partners could learn from Sami conflict resolution. Two researchers and a judge propose a new mediating body for reindeer husbandry, based on what is known as soabahallan, a kind of “never-ending conversation” which aims to make the opposite party understand his or her responsibilities and which decisions should be made.


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