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The Confederation of Vocational Unions (YS) is a politically independent umbrella organization for employees. YS were formed on 17 January 1977 and consist of 18 trade unions with a total membership of over 220.000 (1, January 2015). YS was founded by independent trade unions in acknowledgement of the fact that people have a greater impact on social change when they join forces than by acting alone.

YS are a member of the Council of Nordic Trade Unions (NFS), International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC).

The Confederation of Vocational Unions (YS) is a politically independent umbrella organization.

YS is based on union principles such as that most of the resources shall be managed as close as possible to the members of the unions and a emphasis on occupational identity, because Norwegian employees traditionally have identified themselves with smaller groups in the same industry or sector.

YS’ organizational and working structure is founded on the belief that YS’ aims are best achieved by mutual obligations and joint action. The challenge is to balance paramount political freedom of action with political dynamism in dealing with the structural changes taking place in Norwegian social and working life.

The formation of YS started with an exploratory meeting initiated in Drammen on 27 August 1974 by the Norwegian Society of Engineers’ (Norges Ingeniørorganisasjon, NITO) branch in Buskerud and Vestfold. The initiative was not surprising, particularly in light of the position and impact of similar confederations in neighbouring countries. The first press release that the working committee sent out on 6th February 1975, stated, among other things:

“The goal of the exploratory work is to establish a new and dynamic cooperative body. This body must first and foremost protect and promote the interests these organizations and their members share with respect to income policy, working environment, education issues and representation on public and private steering and reporting bodies and other matters of joint interest. The goal is to increase the influence of the member groups in advocacy and social issues, and by a rational division of work use the combined resources as well as possible. By establishing the new cooperative body it is a precondition that the affiliated labour organizations shall retain their identity and capacity to attend to their traditional and more special interests. In acknowledging that employees – regardless and union affiliation – have a number of common interests, the new cooperative body will aim to establish good relations with other trade unions in Norway as well as in other countries”.

On 9 June 1976 the Norwegian Insurance Employees’ Union, Norwegian Union of Municipal Employees, Norsk Bankfunksjonærers Forbund (bank employee’s union) Union of Civil Servants and Yrkesorganisasjonenes Hovedsammenslutning (federation of civil servants), voted to form YS effective in January 1977. The new confederation had 67.000 members, with treble that number today.

Wage negotiations
YS draw up income policy guidelines ahead of each main wage settlement. The affiliated organizations and YS’ income policy committee are involved in this work. YS’ general council adopts the final income policy guidelines. YS recommend that its affiliated organizations follow these guidelines.

The YS unions are also represented in the various sectors depending on the contract areas the members belong to. A board heads each sector with representatives from the unions.

YS Municipal sector
In the municipal sector, negotiations take place in a system with joint negotiating teams.

YS State sector
In the state sector YS Stat leads the central negotiations. The individual unions conduct their own negotiations with their own ministry. In cases where the unions desire support, they receive assistance from YS centrally. How the negotiations are conducted is enshrined in a special law, the Civil Service Disputes Act.

YS Spekter sector
In the Spekter area (enterprises wholly or partly owned by the government and run according to business principles), the unions negotiate directly with their employer counterparts to a greater degree than in the state sector. The overall provisions in the main agreement and in Part A of the wage agreement (e.g. provisions regarding apprentices, pregnancy etc.) are negotiated at the confederation level while the pure wage negotiations take place directly between union and enterprise/company.

YS Finance sector
In the finance sector the unions negotiate directly with their employer counterparts.

YS Private sector
In the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (NHO) area, YS has in recent years negotiated on behalf of its affected organizations in the central portion of the negotiations.

Organization - The secretariat
The secretariat currently consists of a full-time elected chair, general secretary, youth consultant, administrative consultant, and finance consultant and office secretaries.

YS often draws on the skills and competence of its member unions, which offers a flexible form of cooperation resources, so that YS can act with competence and authority when there is a need for it.

YS emphasizes the following in the various occupational areas:

Income policy
Greater welfare can be achieved through pay increases, shorter working hours, longer holiday leave, and improvements in pensions, particularly for the million employees in the private sector who currently do not have satisfactory benefits.

Important issues for YS will be more flexible organization of working hours and the alternation between work and leisure time.

YS believes that in the future, there will be a greater degree of flexibility in working life to permit employees to vary their working hours depending on what period of their lives they are in.

Employment, taxes/social security and industrial policy
YS works to ensure employment for as many as possible. Society’s goal must be full employment based on a strategy aimed at ensuring that as few people as possible end up as passive recipients of social security during their working years.

YS want to expand the competence of employees and are working for the right to paid leave during further and continuing education. Because YS believes it is important that older workers do not drop out of the labour marked, YS emphasizes that good policy regarding seniors should be an integral part of the human resources polices of businesses and enterprises.

Education policy
YS works to ensure that the quality of upper secondary education and vocational training meets the needs of the labour marked. YS will protect employees’ right to high quality vocational training to make them attractive in the constantly changing labour marked. YS will work to create apprenticeships and strengthen of-the-job training.

YS will work to develop and strengthen higher education and be a driving force to ensure that Norwegians students receive a high-quality education in the broadest possible range of fields. In a globalized labour marked it is also important to strengthen the international dimension in education, both with regard to the programmes of Norwegian institutions of learning and the opportunities to earn full or partial degrees abroad.

International activities
YS shall contribute to greater international solidarity, democratization and, in particular, safeguarding of trade unions rights and human rights in general. YS want development assistance and solidarity cooperation to have a central place in the activities of the organization.

YS shall follow developments in the EU, particularly concerning labour market issues, development of the social dialogue and questions about implementation procedures for EU directives in Norway.

YS will seek to strengthen cooperation with its Nordic sister organizations and forge contacts and begin collaboration with similar organizations outside the Nordic countries.

International solidarity
In cooperation with Norad as the main funder, YS has since the late nineties been running a development programme in the southern region of Africa. Unions from six countries is participating in the project. The project aims to educate the leadership and as many as possible of the union members in the respective unions. The main topics for the educating seminars are human rights, democracy and trade union rights.

YS' senioradvicer Randi G. Bjørgen is the projectcoordinator

Gender equality policy
YS shall work to achieve real gender equality between women and men, with special emphasis on areas of significance for women in working life and trade unions. YS shall in all contexts focus on equal opportunity matters through documents, committees, professional areas and training measures. YS shall promote gender equality in the social debate.

Diversity policy
YS shall work for a society where all people are equal regardless of race, colour creed, ethnic background, sexual orientation or disability. YS wishes to make a contribution to greater integration by focusing on the situation of employees with and immigrant background, e.g. with respect to employment processes, opportunities for advancement and working environment.

Health, safety and environment
The letter of intent signed by employer and employee organizations and the authorities to create a more including working life places obligations on YS and the individual unions in YS. The spotlight should in particular be directed on the duty of employers to ensure a working environment that prevents absenteeism.

YS is interested in expanding the job protection and working hours chapter of the working life legislation to ensure even better protection of the health and safety of employees.