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Nordic employers’ important role in the green transition

Nordic employers’ important role in the green transition

| Text: Fayme Alm, Photo: Eyþór Árnason/

When we talk about the Nordic labour market model, it often revolves around how high the unionisation rate is. However, it is equally important that employers are organised if good agreements are to be made.

Nordic employer organisations have been cooperating for more than a hundred years. For a long period it was intensive. EU membership for three of the Nordic countries changed the collaborative work. 

A tripartite dialogue on the Green Transition on the Nordic Labour Markets was recently held in Reykjavik, with representatives from all the Nordic governments, employer organisations and trade unions. The meeting was hosted by Iceland, which currently holds the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers, and was the first of its kind for 20 years.

Unlike the trade unions and their Council of Nordic Trade Unions, and the politicians with their Nordic Council of Ministers, Norwegian employers’ organisations have no Nordic cooperative organisation. 

Göran TrogenGöran Trogen is the former CEO of the employers’ organisation Almega and between 2004 and 2010 he was a regular member of the board of the International Labour Organisation. During that time, he acted as a representative for the Nordic employers’ associations – alternatingly representing them.  

“During and after WWII, there was a lot of engagement for Norway and Finland among the bosses at SAF” (The Swedish Employers' Confederation which was replaced in 2001 by the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise).

“The engagement led to more and better-organised cooperation between the Nordic employers’ organisations,” Göran Trogen tells the Nordic Labour Journal. 

Labour market with international rules

The ILO is an independent entity within the UN, founded in 1919 with Sweden, Denmark and Norway among the first member states. Today, the ILO has 187 members, who all have signed up to follow the organisation’s eight fundamental conventions.

These cover basic human rights in the workplace like the abolition of child labour, forced labour and discrimination, and the right to organise and collective bargaining. Conventions and recommendations are adopted during the annual ILO conference for all member states in June. 

Strengthening the Nordic cooperation

The Nordic employers’ organisations were also active during the founding of the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) in 1920, and Iceland joined in 1945. The cooperation between the Nordic employers has been a foundation for cooperation in the ILO and IOE.

Roberto Suárez Santos

The International Organisation of Employers, IOE, has been led by Secretary-General Roberto Suárez Santos from Spain since 2018. Here he is addressing an event in Dubai, where the IOE's slogan is "a just transition demands green skills.". Photo: IOE

The Nordic employers’ organisations shared an office in Brussels as early as 1921, with a permanent director to prepare for meetings at the ILO and IOE. The Nordic office later moved to Geneva but closed in the late 1960s, explains Trogen. 

“The ILO conference delegates from the Nordic employers’ organisations later met not only in Geneva but also in various places in the Nordics to review current issues on the agenda and develop common positions,” says Trogen.

The Nordic delegates would later present these positions at the ILO conference and also during tripartite meetings for different industry committees within the ILO. Often, things centred on protecting Nordic rules, making sure ILO norms did not clash with them.  

It could also involve explaining the Nordic model, where employers and trade unions negotiate wages and working conditions, while the state plays a bigger role in other countries by for instance setting minimum wages. It was also important for Nordic employers to make sure ILO norms did not clash with EU rules.

Early on, a lively collaboration developed in the Nordic region between the many employers’ organisations, also on a trade level during annual meetings at various locations in the Nordics.

“Negotiations issues, new labour legislation and organisation issues were on the agenda and the countries compared each other’s systems. These were shared, topical issues. As a result, the meetings were intensive and led to a lot of sharing of experiences. 

“We learned a lot from each other and there has always been a strong feeling of cooperation between the Nordic trade organisations. We delegates made both professional and personal connections,” says Trogen. 

Winds of change

During the 1990s, the Nordic employers’ organisations, albeit at different paces, also came to represent companies in economic policy issues. This meant that the common issues from before became fewer, explains Göran Trogen. 

“Nordic meetings were still taking place in several sectors, but they were divided into employer issues and business-related matters.” 

“EU issues also began dominating the agenda during the meetings, even though not all of the five Nordic countries were union members.

“During the last meeting in Copenhagen for the IT sector in 2006, I felt that these gatherings might have had their time since we had to speak English to each other. Younger Finnish colleagues spoke no Swedish and others at the meeting struggled to understand Danish,” says Göran Trogen.

Sigríður Margrét Oddsdóttir

heads the Icelandic employers' organisation, SA.  At the Tripartiate Dialogue on the Green Transition of the Nordic Labour Market she said that "it´s good business to be green", but of course we need both the unions and the governments.

- When I think of the green transition from the employer’s side in Iceland, there are three main things we should be working on:

- First of all in Iceland we need to work on economic stability. We have an inflation which is 8 per cent and it has been like that for almost two years. Interest rates are 9,25 per cent and that is way too high, because we need investments to do the green transition.

- Secondly, together with the government we have created what we call the Climate Guidelines for industries. We delivered 332 proposals how to guide Icelandic businesses and what options we need to take. If the government could take that in account when they do their action plans, that would be perfect.

- Thirdly, we also need to work on the labour force. In Iceland we are reliant on immigrants. Our population can only grow with 0,5 per cent by year, but for the past years we have been growing 12 per cent thanks to immigration.  We need those people, and we need to work on the skilling side.

She said that there were great examples in Iceland how the workers and employees have been working together in changing huge systems, like the pension system. Another big project has been is funding the Education and Training Service Centres, ETSC.

The ETSC is owned by the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ), the Confederation of Icelandic Employers (SA), the Federation of State and Municipal Employees (BSRB), the Ministry of Finance and the Association of Local Authorities in Iceland. The main aim is to be a leading actor in analyzing, validating and increasing competence in working life. 

Also, to the right in the picture above is Finland's Minsiter of Employment Arto Satonen. To the left is Bernt G. Apeland, President of the Norwegian employers' organisation Virke. 


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