However, transitional rules will be needed for a period of time to prevent possible negative consequences for employment and welfare schemes in Norway, said Minister of Local Government and Regional Development Erna Solberg.
The Government has discussed the EEA enlargement and how far Norway should make use of the transitional arrangements that are permitted under the enlargement agreement.
Most of the other EEA states are making use of transitional arrangements. Norway cannot follow rules that differ greatly from those that apply in neighbouring countries. The Government has decided that Norway also needs transitional arrangements to ensure that EEA enlargement and the free movement of labour are experienced as positive developments, said Erna Solberg. The rules will nevertheless give workers from the new EU member states considerably wider access to the Norwegian labour market than is the case today. This is in line with the Governments desire to liberalise the rules for labour migration. In the longer term, Norway will need a larger labour force, said Solberg.
The Governments proposal for transitional rules means that there will still be a requirement for workers from the new EU member states, with the exception of Cyprus and Malta, to obtain work permits before starting to work in Norway. Work permits will be issued for full-time employment at normal rates of pay and under normal working conditions. Anyone who can find a job that meets these requirements will be entitled to a work permit. There will be no rules restricting the type of employment a person may take or relating to employees qualifications other than those stipulated by the employer. A proposal for transitional rules will be submitted to the Storting before Easter, and the rules must be adopted by 1 May. This is the date when both EEA and EU enlargement are to take place.
There are two main reasons why the Government wishes to adopt transitional arrangements. The first is that they can help to prevent social dumping and the negative consequences this would have for employment and the business sector. This is something that the social partners are also concerned about. However, the Government believes that the greatest challenges will be related to the provision of services and workers brought to Norway by service providers to carry out tasks for limited periods, for example at a building site. Free movement of services will be introduced from the time of enlargement, without any possibility of transitional rules. Other measures to prevent social dumping may also be implemented. The Government will continue the dialogue with the social partners on these issues, and has invited them to a meeting about this on 20 February.
The second reason for introducing transitional arrangements is that they can moderate labour immigration in the first few years and thus reduce the pressure on welfare schemes created by employees from EEA countries. This consideration has also been important for a number of EU member states.
The transitional rules are intended to ensure that people who come to Norway have jobs that they and their families can live on, said Minister of Local Government and Regional Development Erna Solberg. This means that it is not enough to work for only ten hours a week, which according to the EU Court of Justice is enough to be considered as an employee with the right to full social benefits.
A working group, representatives from nine ministries, has reviewed all relevant welfare schemes, such as unemployment benefit, sickness benefit, family allowance and housing benefits. Their report stresses that most individual benefits, which are designed on the basis of the normal income levels and the cost of living in Norway, can on certain conditions be paid to people resident in other EEA states. Many of these schemes will seem very generous in other countries, and this means that there is a risk that they may be abused or used in unintended ways. Several control measures have recently been implemented or are being planned, but these need to be continually evaluated, and better registration routines and better exchange of information between administrative bodies are also needed. The working group did not propose any general changes, but recommended that a review of how the welfare schemes are working after enlargement should be made at the beginning of next year.
The Government is not proposing any changes in specific welfare schemes at present, said Erna Solberg. There is plenty of time to evaluate the consequences of enlargement and see whether these will make it necessary to adjust any of the schemes to make them more robust and more clearly targeted. The control routines are already being made more stringent.
In addition to the transitional arrangements, the Government is proposing to extend the requirement for EEA nationals on short-term contracts to report to the labour authorities. The Immigration Act is to amended to provide the legal authority to intervene in the event of serious disturbances of the labour market as a result of increased immigration from the new EU member states. A safeguard mechanism of this kind may be necessary if Norway decides to repeal the transitional arrangements before the end of the seven-year transitional period.