“We have rules to play by – even when we disagree – which provides us with real assurance”

The bipartite cooperation at the Institute for Social Research

Having a smaller workplace often makes cooperation more likely, but it doesn’t happen on its own. At the Institute for Social Research, transparency and predictability are highlighted as key elements that ensure success.

12. november 2021

“We have rules to play by, and predictability in how employees should be heard. If we disagree, we also have rules to respect. It gives me a great feeling of assurance in our overall approach,” says Tanja Storsul, Director of the Institute for Social Research (ISF), to Jo Saglie, local branch leader of the Norwegian Association of Researchers.

They have been invited to discuss how bipartite cooperation works for them in practice.

ISF is an independent research institute in Oslo, which contributes to academic knowledge in areas that are important for societal development.

“For employees, bipartite cooperation is all about having an influence in their own daily work life and contributing to decisions that affect them,” Saglie explains.

Hear the whole conversation (in Norwegian) on “Hjernekraft”, a podcast by the Norwegian Association of Researchers

Co-determination across the board

ISF is a relatively small institute, with around 60 employees. Everyone eats in the same cafeteria and socialises together. Occasionally, the institute has larger meetings for the entire staff, but they mostly have group and management meetings where information is passed on.

Saglie thinks it is easier to build trust with employees in smaller workplaces. But, as Storsul adds, that does not mean there won’t be underlying issues needing proper resolution in future.

An important element for creating a healthy environment for constructive cooperation at ISF is transparency:

“We work hard to maintain transparency and provide information to our employees regularly. At a company level, people always know what is going on, which also makes sure our management team do not operate in isolation. I try to communicate our weekly updates with everyone, and all minutes from management meetings are made openly available,” says Storsul.

“Thanks to our modest size, we can all talk to each other,” Saglie adds.

Better solutions together

Storsul often finds that it is easier to come up with solutions together when she contacts her employee representatives for help with a challenge. Co-determination has value for the director, too:

“Co-determination takes place during informal chats as well as in planned formal discussions. We have some consultation meetings for things like proposed changes to company guidelines or wage negotiations. Sometimes, I’ll send an e-mail saying ‘We’re considering doing it this way. How does that sound?’,” says Storsul.

“Our bipartite cooperation gives me honest and thoughtful feedback on which approach to take. We almost always end up with better solutions when we have input from everyone,” she explains.

When the COVID-19 global lockdown began in March 2020, a separate emergency response group made up of employee and safety representatives was appointed. All representatives participated in discussions to help examine which measures and guidelines were needed for the institute’s employees to work in the safest possible way.

“It is important to include the employees’ perspective in our decisions. We need to provide our employees with conditions that allow them to do their job well. Therefore, it is important to receive feedback on any proposed changes we may make to ensure that we can perform at our best” Storsul explains.

Continuing to build on trust and cooperation

The institute currently has solid finances and few conflicts, but in a rapidly changing working life, that can also change quickly.

Saglie believes that the key to protecting the positive bipartite cooperation is to continue cooperating to achieve positive solutions.

“We must continue to build on the trust and cooperation we have. When things change, cooperation becomes more important than ever. Both employees and employers should feel they are moving in the same direction, and both parties must be focused on protecting what works well going into the future.”

The Norwegian Model

The Nordic countries’ welfare and employment models have similar characteristics that distinguish them from those in other countries. These characteristics include regulated working times, a relatively large public sector and few social class differences. High employment rates are matched by impressive figures in gender equality, universal welfare benefits, free education opportunities and public health services.

Measurements of these unique societal features form what is known as ‘the Nordic model’.

The Norwegian model is just one part of the overall Nordic model.

An important element of how the model works so effectively is the ‘tripartite cooperation’ and ‘bipartite cooperation’. In this three-party alliance, the trade unions represent the employees and make up an important part of both the bipartite cooperation and the Norwegian model.

The Norwegian model refers to how these three parties – the employer, the employee and the government – cooperate to maintain and improve working life for all. Each takes a seat at the negotiating table as equals, with all final decisions being made fairly and democratically.

The Norwegian model emphasises the right for all parties to be able to participate and collaborate with one another. In short, employees must have the opportunity to influence their working conditions and contribute to the continued development of their working lives and of society. At the company level, the employer and employee negotiate through elected employee representatives. Both parties are important to keeping the Norwegian working life model working.

By encouraging participation and the opportunity to have a real influence on change employees feel heard, which has been crucial to developing society and working lives in a fair way. Strong and responsible employee union representatives contribute to discussions with professional insight, knowledge of company values and a true understanding of union members. They have helped to reduce levels of conflict in the Nordic countries, which is great on a societal, company, employer and employee level.