Labour law and safety at work

Through the EEA Agreement Norway is part of an integrated European labour market. The rules cover free movement of workers, mutual recognition of diplomas, social security, health and safety at work, labour law and equal treatment of women and men. The European Employment Strategy is not part of the EEA Agreement. However, the Norwegian Government intends to participate in the exchange of ideas and practices on employment policies.The social partners in Norway take part in this work through their European organisations.

The freedom of movement of workers entails the abolition of any discrimination based on nationality between workers of the EEA States. As regards employment, remuneration and other working conditions, Article 68 of the EEA Agreement obliges the EEA States to introduce, in the field of labour law, the measures necessary to ensure the good functioning of the EEA Agreement. During the past few years, several new directives have been adopted, and existing directives have been amended within this area that are of significant importance to Norway, e.g. on information and consultation of workers and workers’ involvement in the European company. A proposal with importance to Norway regards the working conditions for temporary workers.

Health and Safety at Work
The parties to the EEA Agreement have agreed on the need to promote better working conditions and improved standards at work, particularly by encouraging improvements in health and safety aspects. Minimum requirements are, and will be, implemented gradually. However, such requirements shall not prevent any State from maintaining or introducing more stringent measures for the protection of working conditions as long as they are compatible with other provisions of the EEA Agreement. Directives with importance to Norway have recently been adopted in this area, e.g. on protection of workers from risks arising from vibration and noise as well as other physical agents and worker exposure to asbestos. The Council has also reached a political agreement on the proposal for a Directive establishing minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from electromagnetic fields and is expected to be adopted by the Council before the 1 Mai 2004. Consultations with the social partners are ongoing in the fields of stress at the work place and on gender equality.

European Employment and Labour Market Strategy
Since 1998 the EU Member States have implemented national action plans in accordance with the Employment Guidelines, which were adopted on the basis of the Title on Employment in the Treaty of Amsterdam. The European Commission has drawn up a draft Joint Employment Report, which examines how the respective Member States are progressing towards the objectives set at EU and national levels on the basis of statistics and indicators and the information provided by the Member States themselves in their implementation reports. The conclusions of this examination are instrumental for identifying difficulties in the process of implementing new Employment Guidelines for the following year. The Lisbon Summit in March 2000 led to a shift in focus regarding the continuation of the European Employment Strategy. The subject of the Summit was “Economic Reform, Employment and Social Cohesion: towards the knowledge economy”. Whereas the EU, previous to the Luxembourg Summit in 1997, sought to complete a framework of labour legislation, the new strategy implies a broader perspective, integrating employment into all policy areas (“mainstreaming”), preferably by soft law. The model reflects the high expectations placed on European and national social partners in employment strategy. They are urged to agree on and implement a process for modernising the contractual framework of working life. The Social Policy Agenda 2000-2005, which was adopted at the Nice Summit, emphasises quality as a driving force for a performing economy, more and better jobs and an inclusive society.

On 1 May 2004 the European Union will be enlarged with ten new Member States, and Norway will be associated with the EU enlargement through the parallel enlargment of the European Economic Area (EEA) in which Norway is part. The Norwegian labour market will thus be opened for workers from the new EU Member States from 1 May 2004. However, working permits will be required for workers from Latvia, Estland, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia. In spite of this, the workers from the new member states will be given considerably wider access to the Norwegian labour market than they have today. There will be no limitations regarding particular skills or competence, but the monitoring of the labour market will be strengthened to avoid social dumping and the exploitation of foreign workers. Full time employment will also be required.

Equal opportunities
Experience at Community level has shown that promoting gender equality in practice calls for a combination of measures and, in particular, of legislation and practical action designed to reinforce each other. After the Beijing Conference in 1995 the Council asked for an annual report on the follow-up of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. Development of EU indicators and benchmarks for monitoring the implementation of the 12 areas of the Beijing Platform are given priority. The Council has decided to continue developing indicators and benchmarking during future presidencies. As a follow up to that, the Council in December 2003 adopted conclusions which set up nine quantitative indicators aimed at measuring the representation of women and men in economic decision-making centres. Gender mainstreaming as referred to in the Treaty of Amsterdam is a new approach designed to consolidate equality, which means taking account of equal opportunities in all policies and programmes. For information on equal opportunities, see the website of
DG Employment. A directive providing for equal treatment for men and women as regards access to employment, vocational training, promotion and working conditions was adopted in 2002. The directive amends a 25-year old directive on equal treatment. It recognises for the first time harassment, including sexual harassment, as a form of discrimination. Norway participates in the current, and fifth action programme relating to the Community framework strategy on gender equality (2001-2005). Norway also participated in the Daphne Programme (2000-2003) on preventive measures to fight violence against children, young people and women. Norway will carry on its participation in the Daphne II programme (2004 – 2008) which is expected to be finally adopted in April 2004.

The Commission has introduced a proposal to a new directive for gender equality within the areas of goods and services. The Commission has pronounced that discrimination because of gender is a common problem in this area, and the Directive is aimed to have its main focus on access to, and offers of, goods and services. The proposal is based on article 13 in the Treaty, which allows the memberstates to provide against discrimination based on gender, race, ethnical origin, religion, disabilities, age or sexual orientation. The prohibition of discrimination will concern all kinds of goods and services, but exceptions can be allowed in cases where a good or a service was meant for representatives from one gender.

On 24 January 2003 the EFTA Court in the case E-01/02 declared that Norway had failed to fulfil its obligations under articles 7 and 70 of the EEA Agreement and articles 2(1), 2(4) and 3(1) of the directive 76/207/EEC on equal treatment for men and women by permitting the reservation of a number of academic posts exclusively for women.

Send this article to a friend
Print this article