Theater of Cruelty

Wolf, wolf

The government made full retreat in the sick pay case. They won't do that next time.


[10. November 2006] As the prime minister this week boasted of the compromise that the social partners have entered into around the sick pay scheme, few took advantage of the opportunity to plan for his lack of tenacity. Some business commentators have just been moaning about skulking workers or LO-controlled governments, but Gerd Liv Valla spoke on behalf of many as she shamed the government's turnaround operation.

Her point was justified – this is not a matter that should be prestigious. The agreement on inclusive working life (IA) is far too important for that. But expensive, future sick pay schemes are a question that will come up again. And next time, the government will have less reason to turn around.

Norway is the only western industrialized country that has full sick pay from day one and consistently through sick leave. We are also the country with the highest proportion of sick people, a location we share with Sweden. We also share the highest occupational pallet with the other Scandinavian countries, and we share the top rank for lowest unemployment with Korea. It is clear that this is related. In a welfare state where the goal is to have all the people working, all the time, sick leave must necessarily go up when employment does.

But that does not mean that there are no measures and measures that can limit this growth and get more long-term sick people back into work. Norwegian politicians have long ago realized this, regardless of the OECD, which is now hammering the message of economic incentives. That is why the government Stoltenberg submitted its proposals for savings, which is also why the previous government did much of the same.

So far, the savings have been minimal. They have little effect on employers, and not yet employees. Instead, we have a strengthened plan for inclusive working life, and close follow-up to get long-term sick people back into work. We know that such measures can help in the individual workplace, and there is reason enough in itself to impose more such responsibility on employers. But we also know that it is only creative bookkeeping that will cause Stoltenberg to release budget crunch in the billion class all before the budget has come out of print.

The next time this issue is on the agenda, Finn Bergesen and Gerd Liv Valla will call wolf again. The choice can be between who is to pay: Plague and cholera, waiting days and the financial responsibility of the employer. It's not a false alarm.

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