Theater of Cruelty

Broken promises

The red-green government should have chosen another slogan: More people on social security!


[8. September 2006] The Government's message at the press conference on Tuesday, September 5, will go into history as one of the biggest breaches of promise any Norwegian government has made. It is two years since Jens Stoltenberg called the Bondevik government "hostile" because they would give a larger part of the sick leave bill to employers. At that time, the Labor leader demanded that there would be no changes to the sick pay scheme. Now Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg wants to reduce a double the share of the bill to employers as the KrF did.

The plan for a more inclusive working life (IA) embraces all the social partners and seeks to fulfill three worthwhile goals: reducing sickness absence, including disabled people and making it easier for the elderly to work. The intentions are good, but now that we are two of 16 quarters into the new contract period, the absence has gone down only 2,5 of the 20 per cent target. NHO's Finn Bergesen believes the ambitious goal will be reached in time. The government declares that it is obviously impossible and that this is the reason for forcing through the dramatic changes in the sick pay scheme. Therefore, they violate the AI ​​agreement's crystal clear requirements for discussions with the parties before any changes are determined.

Minister of Labor and Social Inclusion Bjarne Håkon Hanssen secures his legacy as the government's most unpopular politician when he admits that cuts in the sick pay scheme are a way to get money for other purposes in the state budget. The money can and will be used for other purposes – 2,5 billion next year, 4-5 billion each of the last years in the parliamentary term. Absence will probably decrease in the statistics. Single parents, the disabled and pregnant women will be a greater burden on the employer than they are today. Any slightly ill employee with recurring sick leave will be a continuous money drain for employers. Therefore, it will be both more important and easier for employers to force employees out of work earlier than today – if they at all dare to take the chance of hiring such risk groups.

But the statistics will lie. Because where absenteeism decreases, employees leave working life. The government gets more money to spend on the budget – and will seem surprised when they get the accounts. There, the number of insured persons will rise steadily, at a galloping pace with the declining sickness absence. The result will not be more money for the state, but a less inclusive working life. Is not the Prime Minister a social economist?

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