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Do we choose new or old?

| By Björn Lindahl, Editor-in-chief

Good cooperation can be about new initiatives as well as protecting things that actually work. What drives developments can be people, new organisations or pressing new circumstances. This issue of the Nordic Labour Journal is a mix of all three components.

As this is written, we still do not know for sure whether Sweden’s next prime minister will be a woman. But if the parliament recognises Magdalena Andersson, the last big symbolic position of power in the Nordics will have finally been conquered by a woman.

The Nordic Labour Journal has been following this process with particular interest because since 2011 we have published our own gender equality barometer, which looks at whether 24 different positions of power are held by a woman or a man on 8 March each year. The only government minister post still not yet held by a woman in Sweden was prime minister.

Apart from no female Icelandic fisheries and agriculture minister, there have been female ministers at one point or other in all policy areas of the Nordic Council of Ministers. Defence ministers are not part of that cooperation, due to Finland and Sweden’s neutrality stance.

Yet defence policies are now debated during the Nordic Council’s sessions. During the 73rd session in Copenhagen from 1 to 4 November, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg spoke for the first time. He has of course participated many times before as a representative from the Norwegian government – enough times to be able to joke about the fact that participating Nordic politicians do not always feel their governments follow their advice. 

This year was special, because the Nordic Council of Ministers launched a new vision for the years until 2030, focusing cooperation on making the countries greener. That had threatened support for cooperation in other areas, notably culture. The Nordic Council protested, along with the Norden Association in the different countries. A compromise was reached in the end, and the cooperation ministers added money saved from expenditures that had stopped during the Corona pandemic.

“They have saved considerable amounts of money from travel and accommodation, which compensates for planned cuts in the 2022 budget to culture and education,” explains Marie Preisler who covered the session.

A long-term solution still has to be found, however. But there is a great desire for cooperation in the Nordic region now. Everyone agrees the next crisis should be handled better than the Corona pandemic, especially for those who live in the border regions. 

One battle that remains unsolved is the EU Commission’s proposed statutory minimum wages for all of the Union member states. The Nordics have come together to defend the collective bargaining model.  

During a conference on wage formation in Helsinki, hosted by the Finnish Minister of Employment, the Nordic labour market model was presented – but also what is known as the extension of collective agreements. Perhaps that is a more flexible solution than having governments dictate wages? Norway introduced this model 20 years ago, and both trade unions and employers are happy.  

“We cannot take away something that works,” says Ann-Solveig Sørensen from the Norwegian Food and Allied Workers Union (NNN), whose members include fisheries workers, an industry that used to have a problem with underpaid foreign labour. 

Hadia Tajik, Norway’s new Minister of Labour and Social Inclusion since 14 October, has a long list of measures ready to be introduced to fight work-related crime. She is portrayed in this issue. 

Iceland has a very high trade union and employers’ union membership rate. But there is always space for one more organisation, say the founders of Atvinnufjelagið (the job association), who target smaller businesses and independent employers. One of their demands is simpler wage agreements that do not run to hundreds of pages, causing disagreements over wordings. 

We can all feel inadequate sometimes. When everyone can reach us at any time, there is so much to fit in that we end up with a new kind of workplace problem. 

“There’s a limit for how much information we can process, and how fast. If you are asked to process too much information simultaneously, your main memory becomes a bottleneck,” says Gisela Bäcklander, a researcher at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm.

That is why cognitive health has become part of the Swedish government’s new work environment strategy.


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