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Collective decision making important, but...

Collective decision making important, but...

| Text and photo: Björn Lindahl

“All this research on collective decision making is important, but it has its limitations. I think far too much has been exaggerated. There is an extremely good relationship between the workers’ representatives and the company leadership,” exclaims Knut E. Sunde, director of industrial policy at the Federation of Norwegian Industries.

He has spent the past hour at a ILERA seminar listening to researchers from the Fafo Foundation, the Norwegian Work Research Institute and SINTEF sum up the latest years’ research on collective decision making in the workplace. It gives quite a clear picture of an increasingly authoritarian relationship between leadership and employees.

“I travel around the whole of Norway and meet many of the main employees’ representatives and I work a lot with LO (the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions). We work together where we can and argue over what we have to argue over,” says Knut E. Sunde.

“Demands for productivity stretches from here to the moon. We spend a lot of time trying to find win-win situations where both the company and the employees benefit from working together. If a Norwegian producer of car parts wins a seven year contract, it might depend on a six percent improvement in productivity every year,” he points out. 

Independent employees 

According to E. Sunde, foreign employers are often surprised by how independent the employees are. They solve challenges on their own, without the need of approaching the top boss.

“Norwegian employees might leave earlier on a Friday, but if there is a problem they help out at the weekend. It’s about trust,” he says.

Åsmund Knutsen painted a similar picture. He is an employee representative on the board of directors at Aker Solutions, one of Norway’s largest construction companies in the petroleum sector.

“In order to create confidence, trust is the most important thing. The informal contact is the most important. It is not often we can stop a process, but we can change processes. Especially if we get information as early as possible by being represented on the board.”

Six different CEOs

He does not feel he has problems being heard.

“I have experienced six different CEOs during my time as an employee representative. They have rarely known more about the business than me.”

According to Tore Nilssen, head of research at SINTEF Technology and Society, a new cooperation model is emerging in Norway, which is not based on collective agreements or collective decision making legislation.

“What are the employees’ representatives really saying? They’re saying that they spend 95 percent of their time developing the company, and five percent of the time on wage negotiations.” 

Tore Nilssen says collective decision making in working life happens in three ways:

  • The basic, representative collective decision making based on legislation and agreements.
  • The collective cooperation where all employees are involved in the organisation and the running of it.
  • The new, expanded representative cooperation between the parties, which goes beyond legislation and agreements.

Buy what really happens when the employees’ representatives are included in the company’s development and spend 95 percent of their time doing that? And what happens in the part of the labour market which is not made up of major companies which follow all formal demands stipulated by collective decision making legislation and collective agreements? 

At the opening of the seminar, Sissel C. Trygstad and Kristine Nergaard from the Fafo Foundation quoted answers they got when asking leaders from smaller companies about their view of collective decision making:

“We are so small, we don’t have a collective agreement and no safety representative. But we have a caretaker who looks after things. If something is wrong, we fix it ourselves or ask the caretaker.”

They also divide Norway’s labour market into three:

  • Companies with trade unions and collective agreements
  • Companies without trade unions and collective agreements
  • Cowboy companies 



“The battle for the Norwegian working life model will be held in the unorganised part of the labour market,” says Sissel C Trygstad.

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Åsmund Knutsen and Knut E. Sunde

(above). One is the employee representative on the board of directors at Aker Solutions, the other the director of industrial policy at the Federation of Norwegian Industries. 


International Labour and Employment Relations Assocition arranges seminars about different topics in work life.


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