“Important to reach foreign employees”

The bipartite cooperation at CICERO
The number of foreign employees at CICERO is steadily increasing, and they are often unfamiliar with tripartite cooperation. Kristin Halvorsen, Director of CICERO, sees this as a major challenge.
15. november 2021

“We have many foreign researchers, and they are not familiar with Norwegian work culture. The value of dialogue and tripartite cooperation is quite new to them,” says Kristin Halvorsen.

“Helping them integrate into Norwegian trade unions and understand our ways of working are some of the most important things we can do.”

Halvorsen is Director of CICERO, the Center for International Climate Research – one of the world’s most respected institutes for interdisciplinary climate research. Researchers at CICERO are working on new data to aid those fighting climate issues and to strengthen international climate awareness.

“Ironically, the better we do our job, the less we are needed. Therefore, it’s often difficult to explain the benefits of joining a union for both foreign staff and a number of young Norwegians. Our everyday rights have taken a lot of effort and teamwork to build, it’s not easy for everyone to understand why we should keep this in mind,” says Karina Standal, leader of the local branch of the Norwegian Association of Researchers.

“Achieving a positive outcome from any issue an employee raises with management is very important for us. Over time, we hope this can encourage other staff members to join a union,” Halvorsen adds.

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

Need more unionised employees

Halvorsen and Standal have been invited to discuss how bipartite cooperation works in practice at their workplace.

At CICERO, just over half of their employees are members of a trade union. Standal would like to see that number increase.

“Just over 50 per cent of our growing young and foreign employee base are unionised. Our recruitment process is very important to us, so it is essential we make sure everyone understands the importance of cooperation. People come from various cultures and have differing ideas about unionisation. It is a challenge we take seriously,” Standal explains.

Low threshold to talk to management

At CICERO, there are three trade unions: the Norwegian Association of Researchers, the Norwegian Society of Graduate Technical and Scientific Professionals (Tekna) and the Norwegian Civil Service Union (NTL). Employee representatives sit on an equal committee, together with CICERO’s director. The committee attends regular meetings to discuss everything from wage negotiations to hiring processes.

Each party enjoys good cooperation with the other, having constructive communication and a healthy, mutual trust.

“In addition to regular meetings, we have an ongoing dialogue that can solve potential issues even before they become a problem. There is a low threshold for talking to management in general. I feel we are involved in a positive way,” says Standal.

“It benefits us to have three trade unions that cooperate well. Even if we disagree occasionally, a balance is always found. They catch issues that I may not notice so quickly. I have trust in the employee representatives, and they have trust in me. From my point of view, we can have purposeful discussions without the need for formal meetings,” Halvorsen explains.

Takes input seriously

Halvorsen feels that bipartite cooperation provides management with good insight into the issues concerning the employees and what they need to overcome them.

For example, during the pandemic, it became clear to management that our employees had very different needs, depending on their home situation.

“Our employees have great insight and provide valuable input. We share a common goal of cultivating a healthy working environment, based on mutual respect. The research institute relies on employees feeling that they can make a real contribution. For CICERO, it is important that we manage to achieve constructive cooperation, and that employee input is taken seriously and implemented,” Kristin Halvorsen concludes.

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.