Trade unions and employer organizations play an important role in Norwegian working life. The parties negotiate wages and other working conditions through collective agreements and these agreements also regulate rights and obligations for both parties.
Fafo monitors the density rates, i.e. the proportion of employees and employers who are organized. We are also following the number of employees covered by collective agreements and whether this proportion changes over time. Other central issues are member participation in and expectations towards their own organizations, the role of union representatives and the internal structure and operation of the organizations, and relationships to their surroundings.
More than half of Norwegian wage earners are members of a trade union. The strength of the trade unions varies extensively between industries, sectors and between small and large workplaces. There are also differences in the union density rate between young and older employees, and between educational groups. Likewise, employer organization membership varies between small and large enterprises. A key question for our research is how labor market developments affect the level of support for trade unions and employer organizations. Is this support weakened? And if so, within which sectors? Fafo has paid close attention to the Norwegian and the Nordic trade union density rates over time. We are also concerned with changes in the organizational landscape, as some organizations have grown faster than others; and whether we detect centralization as trade unions and employer organizations are merging into larger units.
Many of Fafo’s research projects have been centered on trade unions, their members and shop stewards. The strength of trade unions depends on their ability to recruit new members as well as recruiting shop stewards at the workplace level. Key issues are members’ expectations towards their organizations, shop stewards characteristics, and the workplace co-operation. However, we are also concerned with the social parties at the central level: what characterizes this type of organizations; how has organizational structure changed over time; how do organizations treat issues such as gender equality, member recruitment, young members, training etc. And not least, what characterizes tripartite co-operation in the Norwegian working life.
Final issues are collective agreements and collective agreement coverage. Collective agreements not only regulate wages, but a number of other work life issues. We study both collective agreements’ content and the number of employees covered by collective agreements. Do labour market developments result in a decrease of collective agreement coverage? And what consequences may such a development have for individual employees, and for Norwegian wage formation and party co-operation?