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Speech by Svein Oppegaard, NHO, on Tripartism: Part of the same future

It has been said that in Norway, everyone knows someone who knows somebody who knows the prime minister.

We are a country of just 5 million people. That explains much, but not all.

We are also a country characterised by high levels of trust: A form of trust that has been passed down through generations, by a population that was held together by a shared struggle against the harsh forces of nature in the far north.

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Now, enjoying a high level of trust is one thing. Being able to manage and sustain it is quite another.

And the social dialogue is perhaps the defining success factor in this respect – and has been so for close to a century.

Because; if we examine how the Norwegian working environment is organized, we find that very same trust in the close cooperation between employers, employees and authorities – from a national level right down to individual workplaces.

A high degree of organization and centrally coordinated wage settlements ensure a steady wage growth, based on competitive industries' need for sustainable wage levels.

Close cooperation between the authorities and the social partners contributes to a welfare system that offers safety and protection against the sudden loss of income. This, in turn, allows for flexible employment.

The result of this trust-based cooperation has so far been high levels of equality, productivity and innovation through steady, life-long learning.

In sum, the Norwegian experience is that trust equals dialogue equals productivity equals growth.

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Now, while trust may be self-reinforcing, it is by no means self-sustaining.

And while things have gone well, so far – the Norwegian economy faces many of the same challenges as everyone else – changes that have the potential to put a strain on our most valuable resource – our trust in each other.

  • There are economic changes – with lower oil prices affecting both financial and labour markets;
  • There are demographic changes – with an ageing population, increased immigration and a still ongoing international refugee crisis;
  • There is the transition to the low-emissions society – with a set of good, but challenging commitments from the Paris Summit, and through the UN's development goals;
  • And there is an underlying and massive technological change – with digitalization and automation transforming the way we work, replacing old jobs and creating new ones.

In sum, these changes mean there is a great and growing need for structural change in both society and business.

They also mean there is a need to re-examine and renew the way in which we conduct our social dialogue.

And furthermore – we also find that in times like these, many look to the social parties to come together and to produce solutions, demonstrate relevance and lead the way.

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Our answer has been the Sustainability Pact, [which Mr. Ryder mentioned earlier.]

Being a joint employer-employee initiative – the Sustainability Pact recognized that we must be willing put our differences aside for the greater good.

It is not "us" and "them"; It is "we, together", facing the same set of challenges.

And we have identified a set of challenges that come at high potential costs – either in the form of increased public spending or increased inequality.

These are challenges, such as:

  • Youth unemployment
  • Work-force exclusion
  • Climate change
  • An ageing population
  • Work-related crime
  • Structurally unsound pension systems
  • Or too low rates of innovation and structural change

We have identified these challenges together, and we have committed to working on them together.

Because – while the scope may seem wide, these issues are all tightly interconnected, and point towards one common goal: more and better jobs.

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And while many of these issues are ongoing and long term-challenges – we are already able to identify some gains from our efforts.

First, I would venture that our climate for cooperation is even better, and our collaboration is even stronger than before.

That doesn't mean we agree on everything. After all, each party works for their own respective member mass, which from time to time have diverging interests.

But we agree on the fundamentals – and we work together for sustainable solutions that benefit all.

And second, through committing to trust – our common social capital – we are making long term investments in the very same factor that drives our productivity and growth in the long run – namely equality.

Our fear, is that greater inequality will inevitably emerge if we fail to resolve our common challenges in one way or another.

This, in turn, would also result in social unrest, with all that could entail in terms of reduced security, and ultimately the crumbling bonds of societal trust.

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I still believe that we can maintain a society with high levels of equality and trust, even if global changes and market forces are pulling in the opposite direction.

Affording this presupposes a business sector that is a world leader in technology, productivity, and profitability.

Highly productive, profit-maximising firms that are competitive on a global scale are a prerequisite for, and a consequence of, the Nordic Model at its best.

And moreover – it presupposes that we continually renew our social dialogue: Creating a more sustainable tripartism, for a more sustainable society.